In what could be a make or break season for himself, Pedro Alvarez has a lot to prove.
The 28 year old first baseman is starting his sixth season in the majors and has all but been a disappointment. Originally drafted second overall in the 2008 First Player Draft, Alvarez has slugged 104 home runs, yet he is unable to keep his average up and is an incompetent cleanup hitter. He doesn’t get on base, doesn’t put the ball in play enough, and doesn’t draw walks. Alvarez is really only paid to hit home runs and he doesn’t even do that consistently. In addition, his struggles at third base lead to him being moved to first base.
In 2012 and 2013, Alvarez hit a combined 66 HR and 185 RBI. His average was .244 in 2012 and .233 in 2013. In the latter year, he was rewarded with an All Star berth. This is Alvarez’s peak. He is not the most impressive or complete player in the league, but for those two seasons he did his job.
This season, Alvarez doesn’t have to carry the weight of the team or even live up to his maximum potential. The Pirates have perhaps their strongest lineup in the Andrew McCutchen era. Despite the loss of Russell Martin, Pittsburgh is expecting McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Josh Harrison to continue their 2014 success. In addition, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are looking to put together consistent numbers for an entire season. Adding Alvarez to the mix would give the Pirates at least six batters that would be challenging for opposing pitchers to get out.
In 2015, the Pirates lineup is all but a lock. Harrison and Polanco will be the first two batters and then come McCutchen, Walker, and Marte, likely in that order. Putting Alvarez in the sixth spot puts him in a pressure-free position. He won’t be expected to carry the offense, but he will be able to drive in a few runs.
Alvarez is the first baseman that the Pirates spent all of 2014 looking for. It seems to be forgotten that in the 2013 postseason, when Pittsburgh struggled at times to put up runs against the St. Louis Cardinals, Alvarez shined. He smacked three homers and hit .353 and drove in 40% of the Pirates runs. While he can’t possibly do the same in a full season, Alvarez is the difference between the Pirates being contenders to win the NL Central and missing the playoffs entirely. Alvarez hitting 30 home runs and driving in 85 like in 2012 would be a very acceptable result in 2015.
2016 is Alvarez’s final season of arbitration-eligibility. If he fails to put up the numbers to start this season, he could be on the trade block. Alvarez’s future in Pittsburgh is in question beyond this season because if he finds his stroke again, he will soon be out of the price range. If he fails to hit, the Pirates have Andrew Lambo and waiting to replace him at a much cheaper price. Alvarez will strike out a lot in 2015, but he will be forgiven if he is able to hit 30 or more home runs.