Throughout Spring Training, Pedro Alvarez was putting up some horrible numbers. He seemed lost at the plate, often working with three different batting stances in the same game, all revolving around a toe tap. The poor numbers, combined with his struggles last year, had the majority of people saying Alvarez should start the season in Triple-A. My feeling was that his problem was adjusting to major league pitching, and that this could only be done in the majors.
Then Alvarez got off to a horrible start in the majors. He went 1-for-24 with 12 strikeouts to start the year. The “send Alvarez down” campaign started up again. Once again, my opinion was that Alvarez needs more time in the majors to work on figuring out major league pitching.
Since opening the season on a 1-for-24 slump, Alvarez has gone 13-for-39 (.333) with five homers. His slugging percentage in that stretch is .829. That’s just his slugging percentage. None of the other Pirates have an OPS over .800. In the last 11 games, Alvarez’s slugging percentage alone has topped that mark. That’s pushed his season OPS up over .800, leading the team.
I’d say “I told you so”, but I won’t. And there’s a reason for that: I can’t.
I don’t think anyone had a clue what to do with Alvarez in Spring Training. The easy solution was to just send him to Triple-A, and forget about the problem. I think there was only one thing that was common: no one was confident that Alvarez would succeed. Whether you thought the best approach would be to send him to Triple-A, or keep him in the majors, no one can say they could see this coming.
I certainly couldn’t, and I’m on the record with a best case prediction of a .250 average, an .800 OPS, and 25+ homers. I said that on TribLIVE Radio during the final days of Spring Training, and as I was saying it I thought to myself “What the hell are you saying, Tim? This is such a long shot prediction. No good can come from this, especially predicting numbers on the fly. Let’s just wrap this up and head down to Mixon’s for lunch.”
There was a reason my best case prediction was that optimistic. It’s the same reason I suggested that he needed to stay in the majors. It’s also the same reason people are now celebrating the recent success from Alvarez, and asking whether he should move up in the order. That reason? Power.
Alvarez looked lost at times at the plate. He struck out. He rolled over on a few and sent them to second base. But when he made contact, the ball went far. He was hitting opposite field, and he was pulling the ball. That’s something we’ve seen early in the season. That’s something we saw tonight when he destroyed an 84 MPH cutter from Adam Wainwright.
The power was encouraging, but we’re starting to see more encouraging signs emerge. For example, there’s the big hits off left handers recently, like the single against J.C. Romero, or the double against Johnny Venters. Alvarez is seeing a steady diet of off-speed pitches, but unlike last year, he’s crushing the off-speed stuff. He’s even started hitting a few fastballs recently.
The success from Alvarez is a very small sample size. It’s limited to 39 at-bats so far. But throughout this whole situation I’ve ignored the numbers, and I’ve ignored the small sample sizes. The eye test in Spring Training showed me that Alvarez was different than the 2011 version. He still looked lost at times, and looked like a Carlos Pena candidate, but the power was there, and that’s something that couldn’t be said last year.
And now it’s not just the numbers, but it’s his approach at the plate, and how he’s destroying the ball. There’s nothing cheap about the hits he has been getting. He’s definitely not THIS good (again, an .829 slugging), but he’s starting to show that he doesn’t belong in Triple-A, and that any further adjustments need to happen at the major league level. Most importantly, he’s looking like the best hitter in the lineup. The reason we’re starting to see the “when will they move him up in the order” question is because he’s looking like a guy who could be a cleanup hitter.
If that happens, it would be huge for the Pirates, since that’s what he was drafted for, and that’s something the system doesn’t really have right now, outside of Alvarez.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 10-7 to the Cardinals. Game story here.
**Prospect Watch: Matt Curry hits his first homer of the year.
**The Pirates recalled Jared Hughes to replace Evan Meek. I guess Hughes was eligible for a recall today.