When Pedro Alvarez was struggling in spring training — the third baseman hit just .170 over the 19 games — many fans were passionate about sending him to Triple-A to start the season. Alvarez developed a toe tap at the plate during the offseason, but he and Manager Clint Hurdle decided to nix it and keep things more simple at the plate. Hurdle and the organization took a lot of criticism for breaking camp with Alvarez, instead of sending him to the minors to get on track.
But the Pirates stayed patient with Alvarez, and he repaid them by having a career-year in homers — the third baseman connected for 30, blasting through his previous high of 16 set his rookie season in 2010. While Alvarez struggled with consistency — he hit just .203 and .207 in April and May to start the season — he showed why the Pirates drafted him in the first round in 2008 by the impressive bat when he’s locked in at the plate. Alvarez hit for a .322/.425/.544 line in the month of August to earn him National League Player-of-the-Week from August 27th-September 2nd after hitting .458 (11-for-24) with four home runs.
Alvarez will always be a high-risk high-reward bat, but moving forward learning to be more consistent will be key. Hurdle believes that with more experience, Alvarez has the ability to develop more consistency moving forward. The Pirates are helping him work towards making those hot streaks longer, and the rough patches, which all players go through, shorter.
Alvarez’s 30 long balls in 2012 ranked fourth among all Major League third baseman, and second in the National League. Alvarez trailed only Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (42), Texas’ Adrian Beltre (31) and San Diego’s Chase Headley (31). Only two other players in Pirates team history have hit 30 home runs in a season while playing third base; Aramis Ramirez (34 in 2001) and Frank Thomas (31 in 1958).
Alvarez finished with a .244 average, 25 doubles, 30 home runs and 85 RBI over 149 games with Pittsburgh this season. The 25-year-old ranked seventh in the N.L. with a 17.5 AB/HR ratio. Despite the Pirates collapse in the final six weeks of the season. Alvarez was able to finish strong. The third baseman batted .275 with nine homers and 25 RBI in his last 44 games. Alvarez will continue man the hot corner moving forward.
Harrison broke camp with the Pirates out of spring training for the first time in his career and spent the entire season in Pittsburgh as the club’s super utility man. Harrison hit for a .233 clip with nine doubles, five triples, three homers and 16 RBI in 104 games with Pirates. Harrison made nine starts at third base, the most played behind Alvarez at the hot corner. Harrison will likely continue his utility role with the Pirates in 2013.
Navarro made the team out of spring training, but struggled out of the gates with Pittsburgh after a solid spring training in his first year with the organization. Navarro was acquired from Kansas City for minor league pitcher Brooks Pounders. The 24-year-old hit just .160 over 29 games this season.
After being sent to Triple-A in late May, Navarro made one more trip to Pittsburgh to make an impression but was optioned back to the minors. Navarro finished with a .279/.366/.491 line with Indianapolis over 66 games. Navarro made two appearances at third base in the Majors this season.
Mercer appeared in 56 games at Triple-A Indianapolis to start the 2012 season before the Pirates promoted the infielder to the big leagues. In limited playing time, Mercer hit .210 with five doubles, a triple, homer and five RBI in 42 games with the Pirates. Mercer is primarily a shortstop, who can play both second and third base. The 26-year-old played in one game at third base with Pittsburgh this season.
Mercer batted .287 with Triple-A and was with the Pirates from July 6 through end of season. He will head into spring training battling for a bench role with the club.
by Tim Williams
This is an easy section to write. When it comes to third base prospects, the Pirates don’t really have any. In the upper levels there are guys like Harrison and Mercer who can play the position, but don’t have the bat you want from a corner spot. Navarro probably has the best potential to provide that bat, but he’s struggled in the majors so far.
In the lower levels you have to go all the way down to he GCL, where 2012 sixth round pick Eric Wood got a lot of time at third base this year. He split time with Edwin Espinal and Kevin Ross. Espinal is a big international prospect. He’s got power potential and a plus arm, but because of his size he’s far from a guarantee to stick at third.
Ross was taken in the eighth round this year, and also has a big frame. That could lead to some power down the line, although his bat looked kind of raw in his first experience in pro ball.
The best of the three is Wood, who has shown some power potential, and has the frame and arm strength to stick at third base. That said, all three are very far away from the majors.
The Pirates have Alvarez under team control through the 2016 season. He’s a Scott Boras client, so an extension or a return as a free agent would be unlikely. That means the Pirates have four years to develop a third base prospect, or acquire one through the draft or trade. That’s a lot of time, but it doesn’t feel that way considering the lack of potential options in the minors.