Not Worried About Alvarez, Lincoln Yet

The big thing every Pirates’ fan has been looking forward to for the 2010 season has been the debuts of top prospect Pedro Alvarez, and top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln.  So far, those debuts have been a bit of a disappointment.  Alvarez is currently hitting for a .114/.158/.171 line in his first 35 at-bats, while Lincoln has a 6.00 ERA, and an 8:8 K/BB ratio in 24 innings of work.

Pirates fans may have been spoiled last year with the debut of Andrew McCutchen.  Not only did McCutchen hit for a .286/.365/.471 line in his rookie campaign, but he got off to a fast start, hitting for a .284/.333/.440 line in 109 at-bats during his first month.  A prospect breaking in to the majors with no learning curve is very rare, even in cases of top prospects like Pedro Alvarez.

The slow start for Alvarez, however, is more than just the norm for top prospects.  This is also a trend in Alvarez’s pro career.  Alvarez started off slow in 2009 in Lynchburg, with a .219/.341/.397 line in his first 73 at-bats.  In his final 170 at-bats at the level he hit for a .259/.342/.524 line.  In his first 45 at-bats in Altoona, Alvarez hit for a .200/.224/.444 line.  Alvarez hit for a .368/.466/.626 line in his final 174 at-bats at the level.  This year Alvarez started slow in Indianapolis, with a .224/.298/.424 line in his first 85 at-bats.  He followed that up with a .314/.406/.608 line in his final 153 at-bats before getting promoted to the majors.

Outside of his start in Altoona, it has taken Alvarez about a month to get adjusted to a new level.  His adjustment in Altoona only took about two weeks.  I wouldn’t expect him to jump in to the majors flawlessly after showing a history of initially struggling at every level, which is why I’m not concerned over his slow start.  Even Justin Smoak, who always seems to be mentioned in the same sentence as Alvarez, struggled to start his major league career.  Smoak hit for a .167/.278/.306 line in his first 108 at-bats this year.  Since then, he’s hit for a .302/.408/.523 line in his last 86 at-bats.  Hopefully the same turnaround happens with Alvarez.

Lincoln is no stranger to struggling at the start of a new level.  In 2009 he opened the season in AA, posting a 4.26 ERA, a 7.6 K/9, and a 2.7 K/BB ratio in his first four starts.  He followed that with a 1.61 ERA, a 7.9 K/9, and a 4.1 K/BB ratio in his final 56 innings at the level.  Lincoln started off with a 5.76 ERA, a 5.8 K/9, and a 1.6 K/BB ratio in his first four starts at AAA.  He improved to a 4.17 ERA, a 6.4 K/9, and a 14.5 K/BB ratio in his final 41 innings.

Lincoln struggled to start the 2010 season at the AAA level, with a 4.77 ERA, a 5.7 K/9, and a 2.0 K/BB ratio in 28.1 innings in the month of April.  In May and June he rebounded with a 2.03 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, and a 7.4 K/BB ratio in 40 innings.  Lincoln has struggled in his first four starts at the major league level, although he’s improved in the last two outings, allowing three earned runs in six innings in both outings.  Lincoln’s biggest need is raising his strikeout numbers.  Through 24 innings, he has just eight strikeouts.

Pedro Alvarez and Brad Lincoln are two of the most important players in the Pirates’ rebuilding process. Without Alvarez, the future offense has very little punch, and no anchor.  Without Lincoln, the short term rotation has no potential leader.  The desire to see instant results is understandable, considering the impact on the future these two players have.  That said, it’s very early for both players, and the normal adjustment period can’t be overlooked.  If both players are still struggling come August, I might start to worry.  Until then, I’m fine allowing them to get adjusted to the majors in the middle of a season that has the Pirates challenging for last place in the majors, just as long as they’re major league ready to start the 2011 season.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://twitter.com/RandyLinville Randy Linville

    I agree, the Pirates – and any team – can contend with a below average offense. It just doesn’t happen all that often when the offense is in the bottom five in all of baseball.

    The source of my pessimism isn’t the simple fact that the offense is bad. It is just how bad the offense is. The Pirates are last in runs per game with 2.85. The Cubs are 13th in the NL with 3.72 runs per game (league average is 4.08). In other words, the club is closer to averaging 2.0 runs per game than catching the 13th place team in the league. Those are just numbers and I don’t believe for a second that the offense will wind up at 2.0 runs per game on the year. But that’s the magnitude of how bad the hitting has been. The offense isn’t just bad. It isn’t merely below average. It is really, really bad.

    What we are aiming for/waiting for/hoping for is a positive regression to the normal levels of league low runs per game and it seems to be very far away. If the club averaged 3.71 runs per game starting now (essentially matching current 13th place levels and nearly 0.9 runs per game better than through the first 39 games), that would put the season total average at 3.5
    May has included four of the nine games in which Pedro awakened. It has also included the hot streak Barajas has had and Cutch hitting over .400 with plenty of power. Thus far, the average runs per game in May is 3.11. Which, believe it or not, is nearly a full half run better than where the club was in April. So, can this team improve by another half run starting now? Absolutely, but everyone, everyone, everyone has to start hitting.

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

      Barajas is heating up to his usual average of .230? Great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-YaZhynka/100000448392567 Richard Ya’Zhynka

    If the offense can improve to the point of being as bad as it was last year, the Pirates will finish at .500.

  • Lee Young

    .
    As a long suffering Pirate fan, I reserve the right to “panic and mass hysteria”.

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  • Lee Young

    “Kevin Correia shouldn’t be in the rotation. Seriously, they have Brad
    Lincoln, Rudy Owens, and Jeff Locke as options. There’s no reason to
    keep Correia in the rotation at this point. Move him to the bullpen and
    save him for an emergency.”

    Don’t forget that we have Karstens coming back.

    .