(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Will Pedro Alvarez Play Another Game at Third Base for the Pirates?

Coming into the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had question marks at first base, both in the short-term and long-term. They added Ike Davis in a trade with the Mets, hoping that he could help in the short-term and possibly the long-term.

The third base position looked good with Pedro Alvarez in the short-term, but had long-term questions with Alvarez expected to be a free agent after the 2016 season.

And now? Neither position looks good in the short-term or the long-term.

At first base, Ike Davis has not worked out. Gaby Sanchez, who has had good numbers against lefties in his career, has not been doing his part in the right-handed side of the platoon. At third base, Pedro Alvarez has had a disaster year. His power has been down offensively, and his defense has been horrible. The Pirates are now moving him to first base, which was a move that was made possible by the emergence of Josh Harrison this year.

“Josh Harrison gave us comfort,” Neal Huntington said on the move for Alvarez. “We’d still prefer to jump Josh all around and be able to keep everybody strong by having Josh play regularly, but play at a bunch of different positions. We still feel like in an ideal world where we’d like to go. There’s been some challenges with Pedro with the throwing. So we felt that as we moved towards it that our best lineup was with Josh at third base. And now how do you keep Pedro sharp and keep this club going and that was to hand him a first baseman’s mitt and see how quickly he can become comfortable over there. It gives an option to Clint, it gives him extra flexibility, extra versatility off the bench if Pedro can play both corners, if Gaby can play both corners. Ike is primarily a first baseman, but it gives Clint some extra versatility and some flexibility with Pedro having the ability to play first base.”

In the short-term, the Pirates are now going with Josh Harrison as their third baseman, with question marks from the three struggling players who are at first. Huntington mentioned that he’d like Harrison to remain a utility player, but that doesn’t make much sense with the way he has been playing this year. The only way it would make sense for Harrison to serve in a utility role would be if the other spots on the team were filled by productive players. That’s not the case at third base.

Neal Huntington did say that Alvarez still wants to be a third baseman, even though he’s accepting the move to first base for now.

“You know Pedro’s been strong through this and he still wants to stay and fight and stay at third base,” Huntington said. “And, he’s accepted the first baseman’s mitt to help the club. Because he recognizes how well that Josh is playing and that he’s contributed to some of our challenges at time. But in his mind, man, he still wants to play. And, he wants to be out there helping this club and that’s the reason why he accepted the challenge of seeing if he could learn first base very quickly and be an option for us there.”

The problem with Alvarez returning to third base is that his throwing issues will still be there. It’s possible that he could get over this case of the yips, but that’s an issue where you’d need to see him playing third base with no issues. With the way Harrison has been playing, there is no incentive to move Alvarez back to third base for a trial.

As for Alvarez at first base in the long-term, Huntington said that he’s still their third baseman, and that the move would be a decision to make in the off-season.

“We’re going to work as hard as we can to get Pedro through this throwing challenge, it makes us a deeper more talented club and gives us a lot more flexibility and versatility,” Huntington said.

At the moment, it seems like they’re focusing more on getting Alvarez over to first base. With Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen out, now would be the perfect time to put Alvarez at third base if you did trust him to get through his throwing issues. That would allow Josh Harrison to move to second base or left field, while eliminating the need for one of Jayson Nix or Travis Snider as a starter. Instead, the Pirates are benching Alvarez in favor of both of those guys, and focusing on having him get reps at first base.

If Harrison continues with his 2014 performance, that would solve the problem at third base for now. As for first base, it seems more likely that Alvarez will be playing that position before he plays third. As long as Harrison plays well, I can’t see Alvarez moving back. Even if Harrison doesn’t play well, it’s hard to see Alvarez moving back, especially when they’re in the perfect situation right now to move him back temporarily. One of the things I’ve been hearing in the organization is that the Pirates are making plans to reshuffle the infield next year, due to the struggles Alvarez has been having. Those plans are obviously already in the starting stages with Alvarez getting time at first base, and Alen Hanson moving to second base to speed up his path to the majors. It looks like Alvarez will get a chance to play first base this year, which could help clear up the infield picture by the off-season. I’d be surprised if he plays another game at third base for the Pirates, outside of several injuries forcing a big need for him to temporarily switch positions.

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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, 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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  • Andy Prough

    The real problem I’ve been seeing with Alvarez at third for a long time is he just simply works too hard over there for his body size (6’3″, 235) and I think it affects his at-bats. He’s built like a first baseman, and most teams would protect him by putting him at first. I think that moving forward he’ll turn out to be an excellent first baseman, and that his bat will respond to the different defensive workload due to the change of infield address.

    • Travis Persinger

      I guess we’ll find out by watching the games on our mlb packages….lol. Because at most, we will only see it the rest of this year and next in Pittsburgh. You may very well be right though. I’ve just been under the impression his offense has had Mark Reynolds written all over it from Day 1 and he’ll eventually be a guy who moves around baseball on 1 year contracts to be a short term HR threat in a lineup.

      • Andy Prough

        I probably never really believed in Pedro until the playoffs last year – but man that playoff performance was impressive. The best post-season performance I’ve seen by a Pirate batter since Stargell in the late 70’s. I believe Pedro is simply playing the hardest position on the field besides catcher and shortstop, and it’s just got to be very taxing for such an enormous body.

  • Travis Persinger

    The biggest question mark

    • Andy Prough

      I agree. No reason not to give the 3rd base job to Harrison permanently – he’s too good to be a “super utility” part-time player – he needs to be given a position and needs to be in the lineup every day. There’s no room for him in the outfield, so 3rd base makes perfect sense, and he’s quite adept there defensively. I loved the 3rd-to-home-to-1st double play he initiated the other day to preserve our 2-1 win over the Padres.

  • dr dng

    In my opinion, the answer to the question is “yes.”

  • moose7195

    Part of me thinks Pedro might get traded in the offseason. His value will rise at that time because I think teams will consider it an opportunity to “fix” him. And I don’t think the Pirates want to risk all of his trade value in case his 2015 shows no improvement.

  • LetsGoMarauders

    I hope he continues to play 3rd base for the Pirates – DSL could use some help.

  • Pie Rat

    They should have done this a long time ago. Many thought this should have been done during the off season. There were more options at 3rd and less competition.

    • moose7195

      In all fairness, there were not more options at 3B. No one expected Josh Harrison to be as good as he’s become this year. In fact, after Harrison, the next option was Michael Martinez. 1B on the other hand had Sanchez, Ishikawa, Lambo, McGuiness, and Hague

  • Pie Rat

    If the Pirates are really going to make the move mid season what are they going to do with Davis.

    • Bryan Graham

      Looks like the Tigers batboy might be going on the dl, they could probably use Ike there.

      • Andy Prough

        What a game tonight! Wouldn’t have imagined I’d ever say this, but where would we be the past month without Travis Snider? The guy had a 1.200 OPS in July – why isn’t he playing in left every day while McCutchen is out?

  • Jim

    What about the possibility of Walker at 1B or 3B in the future as well?

    • Ron Loreski

      If Alvarez makes the move to 1B permanently, Walker should to to 3B and Harrison to 2B. Walker’s range is declining so moving him over should help the Pirates have a better defensive infield.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I’d like to see Neal make a deal for a decent young third baseman. Like Nolan Arenado from the Rockies for someone like Nick Kingham. It’s a given that Pedro is going to have to play first, and I think he can handle it. I like keeping Josh Harrison as the all around super sub.

    • S Brooks

      .683 OPS away from Coors, but I like the idea.

    • Andy Prough

      Arenado would cost a fortune in assets, and would give you slightly less offensive production than Harrison at 3rd base with nearly the exact same defensive numbers. Pirates better wise up and realize they’ve got a hidden gem in Harrison and give the man an everyday position.

    • bucs_lose_again

      Love the idea, but we aren’t getting Arenado for Kingham.

  • Andy Prough

    Biertempfel is reporting tonight that Hurdle said he’s going to be trotting Alvarez out at first base “soon”. Said Pedro is working like crazy to learn the position, and pretty soon the only way to find out where they are is to put him in the game. Also had some nice comments from Ike Davis who was sounding very supportive.

    • csnumber23

      It’s good to know Ike will be supportive from the bench because this is the correct move in my opinion. I think Pedro will be fine over at 1st.

  • pilbobuggins

    Like I said the other day, the pirates want to replace two experienced first basemen who can’t hit with an inexperienced first basemen who can’t hit. Aside from a feel good story for some of the posters on here I really don’t see much of an upside. Looks like we will all find out soon enough who is right according to what the pirates are saying.

    • Ron Loreski

      Pedro can’t hit? Did you forget about 2012-2013 already? Especially the 2013 NLDS?

      • Lee Young

        Ron…well, gee, Davis hit 32 HRs one year. And his career OPS is higher than Pedro’s.

        • Ron Loreski

          Ike Davis is a scrub. He had 1 freak season, just like Chase Headley. Pedro has more pedigree in his left foot than Ike has in his whole body.

  • Frank Micko

    Anyone that thinks Harrison shouldn’t be an everyday player moving forward should filter ESPN’s player rater for 3rd basemen for the season and 3rd basemen for the last 30 days. The biggest offensive problem we’ve had was ignoring that Pedro should have been converted 2 months ago.

    • Ron Loreski

      Anyone who goes to ESPN for baseball information needs to look elsewhere.

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