When Pedro Alvarez was taken in the first round in the 2008 draft, there were two beliefs about his future. First was that he could be the big power bat that would anchor the middle of the Pirates’ lineup for years to come. Second was that he might eventually have to move to first base, due to his size. Six years later, only one of those things is true, and unfortunately for the Pirates, it’s not the good one.
Alvarez has struggled this year on both sides of the ball. His power just isn’t there, with a .404 slugging percentage that represents a huge drop from previous years. He’s been struggling defensively, but the surprising thing is that it’s not really due to his size, as expected back when he was drafted. Instead, for whatever reason, he can’t make the throw to first base anymore.
The Pirates have replaced Alvarez at third base with Josh Harrison, who has been better than Alvarez in every way this year. It’s still too early to say whether Harrison’s performance this year is legit, but the Pirates have no choice right now but to trust him, and start him over Alvarez.
The future for Alvarez with the Pirates will either be first base, or a trade. When asking around about the Alen Hanson move to second base, one of the things I was hearing was that the plan is to eventually move Alvarez to first base. Two days later, he loses his job at third to Harrison, the Pirates sign Jayson Nix to backup third base, and the talk that Alvarez will move to first makes a lot more sense.
Ike Davis was acquired this year to be the first baseman for the Pirates, as part of the platoon with Gaby Sanchez. Davis has struggled in the role, although he has been strong in the second half during his career, and has a .790 OPS so far in a small sample in the second half this year. He’s going to have to do a lot in the final two months to win a job for next year, since Alvarez looks like the much better option in the future.
As for Alvarez, the hope would be that he would see his power bounce back to where it was the last two years after a move to first base. He wouldn’t have to worry about his fielding at third, which would make it possible to focus more on the hitting. Of course, he will have to focus on learning the first base position, which is why the Pirates probably won’t have him making the switch this season.
I’m sure most Pirates fans would rather see Alvarez traded, and just avoid the hassle of trying to see him bounce back. Alvarez has a lot of upside, and you’d be selling at a low point if you trade him now. The only way it would make sense to deal him is if you think his value could go any lower, with a small chance of improvement. I just can’t see his bat and his power falling completely off and never returning. I’m not saying the Pirates won’t deal Alvarez. I just think there’s a good chance that the bat will bounce back next year.
Alvarez was expected to be a key part of the Pirates’ franchise back when he was signed. He’s not that key piece this year, but fortunately the team has seen Harrison step up to fill that void. Still, there’s nothing like this offense with Alvarez’s power bat in the middle of the lineup. The Pirates need to keep him around, in hopes that his power returns after the move away from third base.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.