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Bucs Make Third Baseman Top Pick
PITTSBURGH -- In the months leading up to Thursday's First-Year Player Draft, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about a new Draft philosophy, about shifts within the scouting department and about more accountability.
Huntington tried to alleviate concerns about signability issues, pointing to an increased Draft budget and a green light from ownership to not shy away from players because of financial demands. He talked about adding Pittsburgh Pirates-type players.
And arguably most importantly, he talked about the organization's commitment to taking the best player available in the Draft, something that fans have questioned in years past.
The consensus -- from those inside the organization and from experts outside -- is that the Pirates did just that when they used the No. 2 overall selection to select Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
"Pedro is a player we've done a lot of work on," Huntington said shortly after the selection. "It's our belief that he has the potential of being a middle-of-the-lineup-type bat with the added potential of being a left-handed hitter at PNC Park. It's our belief that he will be a quality Major League third baseman."
The Rays made Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham the top overall pick of the '08 Draft with the preceding selection.
In the days leading up to Thursday's selection, it became fairly certain that that the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Alvarez would ultimately be atop the team's Draft board, despite Alvarez's injury-plagued junior season and his reportedly high bonus demands.
Alvarez was consistently mentioned among the top three players available even though he missed 23 of his team's first 24 games this season. He broke the hamate bone in his right hand in Vanderbilt's season-opening game against Oregon State.
He rebounded to play the final 40 games of the Commodores' season and hit .317 with 15 doubles, nine homers and 30 RBIs. While still respectable season-ending totals, Alvarez's power numbers in 2008 were much lower than in his previous two collegiate seasons -- a direct result of that early season injury.
"Once I came back, I was 100 percent," Alvarez said by phone from his parent's apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. "I didn't work out when I was hurt, so naturally you lose some strength. But that's gainable again."
Alvarez had the hamate bone removed early this spring. And after exhaustive research on this type of injury, Pirates management came to the same conclusion -- that Alvarez should not suffer any long-term, lingering effects from the injury.
"The hamate bone, if diagnosed correctly, if taken out correctly, if rehabbed correctly -- he'll have no problems with it going forward," Huntington said. "And it is our belief that everything was handled properly."
With the injury apparently of no concern, the biggest issue for Pirates management now becomes signing Alvarez before the Aug. 15 deadline. Alvarez is advised by agent Scott Boras, and if the two sides are not able to come to an agreement before that August date, then Alvarez will go back into the Draft pool next year and the Pirates will be award a compensatory pick in next year's Draft.
Reports have emerged that Alvarez's demands will include a signing bonus of at least $7 million, and possibly a Major League contract, though Alvarez would not speak on the subject while answering questions from the Pittsburgh media Thursday afternoon.
"I can't even think about that right now," he said. "I need to sit down with my parents and my evaluators and talk about that later. Right now I'm just trying to take everything in."
Those type of financial expectations would fall well above the "slot" figure, which is an amount that Major League Baseball suggests for each pick. To further put Alvarez's supposed demands in perspective, Mike Moustakas was given a $4 million bonus when Kansas City selected him No. 2 overall last season.
While Pirates management expects the negotiations to be long and hard, Huntington suggested that the organization's leverage comes from trying to convince Alvarez that it is in his best interest to sign this summer so that his track to the Majors will be expedited.
"It's our belief that Pedro wants to be a Major League Baseball player and realizes that [Washington's] Ryan Zimmerman, [Milwaukee's] Ryan Braun, [Colorado's] Troy Tulowitzki and [Tampa Bay's] Evan Longoria before him, they've gotten out in that first summer and gotten to the big leagues within 24 months," Huntington said. "Will that happen in this case? I don't know. But there's certainly a good track record there."
And concerning the possibility of demands of a Major League contract, Huntington said: "A Major League contract, in the right situation, isn't a huge issue. In the wrong situation, it's a mistake."
Asked if it he felt getting on the field early in the summer was critical, Alvarez again didn't give a direct answer.
"Again, this is the first step of a long process, and that will be taken care of when it comes," said Alvarez, who combined to hit .357 with 40 home runs and 132 RBIs in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. "It's going to be a team thing when I sit down with my family and my advisor to talk about it. "
Thursday marked the second time the now 20-year-old has been drafted. Three years ago, he was a 14th-round selection by the Red Sox, who offered him nearly $1 million to forgo college. Alvarez declined, opting to attend Vanderbilt instead.
Alvarez's stock began rising immediately after the '05 Draft, following his breakout freshman season at Vanderbilt. He was named Baseball America's Freshman of the Year before picking up All-American and All-South Eastern Conference honors a year later.
"He's got a nice stroke," said Pirates scouting director Greg Smith. "The ball came off the bat very well. We think he's an advanced college hitter."
Alvarez also made a splash playing for Team USA. He combined to hit 12 home runs and 73 RBIs in two summers with the national team. He hit .379 and .315, respectively.
Heading into the Draft, however, some scouts appeared hesitant to label Alvarez as a potential Major League third baseman, suggesting that a position change to first base may be the best decision moving forward. Alvarez made 10 errors in 40 games this season.
The Pirates, though, don't seem to share those concerns, pointing to Alvarez's soft hands, athletic feet and arm as more than adequate to play the position at the big league level.
"We feel Pedro has all the attributes to be a good third baseman at the Major League level," Huntington said. "And, most importantly, he has the desire to be a good Major League third baseman."
Alvarez added that he was "very confident" that he can be a Major League third baseman.
The selection of Alvarez marks just the third time in the last 11 seasons that the Pirates have taken a position player with their first-round pick. The last time the Pirates used their first pick to select a third baseman was in 1986, when they made Jeff King the No. 1 overall pick.
Prior to choosing Alvarez, the Pirates selected catcher James Tillman in a special Draft to honor Negro League players who were excluded from playing Major League Baseball. Tillman played for the Homestead Grays, who played in both Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., from 1941-43.
there is stuff on our other first day picks; it was too long for me to post all of it