Pedro Alvarez could be the key to a winning season in Pittsburgh
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It goes without saying that it’s been a long, dreadful two decades for Pittsburgh Pirates fans. After a glimmer of hope for half of last season, it seems expectations have fallen and dreams of competing in the National League Central seem unlikely.
However, a shot at a winning season is not all that far off. When you’ve been struggling for so long, you really have to start looking at small, accomplishable, goals. Since Atlanta’s Sid Bream slid home to send the Pirates packing in 1992, the franchise hasn’t had a winning season.
The closest they’ve come was in 1997 when they finished 79-83. Had this been the NFL or NBA, that might have been good enough to get you into the playoffs, but baseball only rewards winners.
Enough ranting about the numbers and torturing Pirates fans who have suffered enough; there is reason to believe that 82 wins is surmountable and it could all happen this year if their first-round draft pick (second overall) in 2008 becomes the hitter everyone thought he would be.
Isn’t that always the case with top prospects these days? They’re given lofty expectations and then it seems like they spend the next five years of their career trying to fulfill those presumptions.
Pedro Alvarez, nicknamed “El Toro,” is a unique player for me because I watched him several times when he was in college. Living in Alabama, I’ve been able to attend the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament for the past seven or eight years and have witnessed some of the best collegiate baseball players the sport has to offer.
I’ll often be there on day one and watch pretty much every game. Of all the players I’ve seen come through, no one has impressed me as much as Alvarez. The Vanderbilt University team he played on has to be one of the greatest college teams of all time, with players like Mike Minor, David Price and Ryan Flaherty.
In college, Alvarez batted .386 his junior year with 18 home runs and 68 RBIs. In the 2007 SEC Tournament, he was 13-for-24 with two home runs, which is probably why I think so highly of him. It seemed like every time he came to the plate, he hit a ball hard somewhere. He was an awkward-looking kid in the sense he seemed short and a little stubby, but his swing was beautiful. It’s not easy to hit in the SEC.
The next time I saw Alvarez bat he was playing for the Indianapolis Indians. He looked shorter and stubbier than usual, and my initial thought was fame hit him and he quit caring. This was in 2010 and he was already playing for the Pirates triple-A team, which isn’t unusual for a college player to develop so quickly.
But he was struggling and looked uncomfortable swinging the bat. He hit .277 that year, which isn’t bad, but not quite what I expect from someone who dominated the college game. Destined to have their first round draft pick make a splash, the Pirates decided to bring him up anyway. He managed to hit .256 but struck out 119 times in 347 at-bats. That’s crazy for a guy who has that good of a swing.
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