Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates first round pick in 2008, is loaded with potential at the plate. There are, however, some issues that are currently holding him back.
To this point in his professional career, the left-handed swinging Alvarez has not shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching with any consistency. Also, his swing, while conducive to hitting for power, may never produce much in the way of AVG at the big league level.
Last season there was a glimmer of hope that Alvarez had made a significant improvement in these categories. At single-A Altoona, Alvarez hit .314 in 70 at-bats against lefties. However, he only managed one of his 13 home runs against them. Once promoted to double-A his struggles re-emerged as he hit .232 in 95 at-bats against lefties.
So far in the 2010 season Alvarez has made little to no progress in his approach against lefties. To date, Alvarez is hitting only .214 against them (9 for 42) with only two of his 10 home runs. All together, between last season and this season (high-A through triple-A), Alvarez is hitting .256/.319/.406 against left-handed pitching with only five of his 37 home runs, which is a huge contrast from his .293/.394/.595 line against right-handed pitching.
The other issue is Alvarez's powerful swing. While there is little doubt that he can generate 30-plus home run power at the Major League level, he may end up looking more like Carlos Pena than Ryan Zimmerman. It took Pena a few years to get over his lefty splits and strikeout rates and he has never hit for much AVG.
According to minorleaguesplits.com, Alvarez has done little in terms of hitting line drives over his brief minor league career. Between last season and this season, Alvarez has only hit line drives at a 13.7 percent clip, which would be even lower if not for good numbers at Altoona. At the higher levels, Alvarez just isn't hitting line drives.
Combined, the two big issues with Pedro Alvarez's offensive game could become major problems at the Major League level. Problems against left-handed pitching and an inability to consistently hit line drives (also high strikeout totals) is an equation for offensive struggles. Even if Alvarez hits home runs, the AVG is not likely to come around until, or if, he can improve in both facets of his game.
This doesn't even address questions about his defense and conditioning. Ever since he was drafted, many have questioned Alvarez's ability to stay at third base. Recently a colleague of mine was able to catch a game in Indianapolis (Pirates triple-A affiliate) and said Alvarez looked shockingly "non-athletic".
Pirates fans have been through enough over the past couple of decades. Alvarez is being hailed as the start of a brighter future. A turning point in franchise history. However, in all honesty, Pirates fans need to temper expectations a bit.
The words "future star" have been bestowed upon many top prospects. Not all live up to expectations. Pedro Alvarez has the natural talent to become a star level player in the big leagues, but there are some negative aspects to his game that could cause struggles, especially early in his career. For a team looking for a saviour, expectations may be a bit too high for the young Alvarez.
In reality, this is not the kind of player a franchise would build a team around.
But don't worry Pirates fans. You do have a franchise player. His name is Andrew McCutchen.