First Pitch: Thoughts on Alvarez at First, Winning the NL Central, and Top Prospects

Today was the first day of workouts for the pitchers and catchers in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. It was a pretty busy day from a news standpoint, with this article being the tenth one we’ve published. Rather than introducing a new topic tonight, I wanted to review today’s topics and expand on a few things. I figured that would be best, especially since there are already five articles on the schedule for tomorrow, not counting any news that comes up throughout the day. Welcome back, baseball.

Clint Hurdle met with the media after today’s practice, and discussed several different topics. One of those topics, as expected, was the upcoming season and how they will approach things after two straight Wild Card appearances. The answer? “Our goal now is to push it forward and win the division.” I definitely think they have a shot, and based on all of the reviews and rankings of the team this off-season, it looks like I’m not alone in that feeling.

The Pirates also revealed their new Performance Center at Pirate City. Check out the link for a few pictures, a quick video, and a comparison to the old Performance Center, which looked way overdue for an upgrade.

Pedro Alvarez Gets a Raise and Talks First Base

Pedro Alvarez won his arbitration case today, receiving $5,750,000 in his next-to-last year in the process. Alvarez didn’t have a comment on the case when he talked to the media, but did discuss the first base position. I recapped that discussion, along with some comments from Clint Hurdle, and video of Alvarez at first base, in a new video feature for the site. The first one is titled The Progression of Pedro Alvarez at First Base.

The new feature will combine video interviews with clips of the player playing. I might add some of my own analysis in the videos after I get used to editing them quickly. Until then, I’ll just be adding extra thoughts in the article. My goal is to do one feature per day. I think this would be a nice change of pace, rather than the normal route where I’d interview the player, transcribe the interview, record video during practice, then throw an article together that includes everything you’d get in the video.

As for Alvarez at first base, he didn’t look great today, although it was the first day of practice. Stetson Allie and Andrew Lambo didn’t look their best either, and they have been working at the position a lot longer than Alvarez. I’ll wait until later in the Spring to evaluate Alvarez at first base. That said, I don’t think his defense will matter nearly as much as the bat. If he’s playing Gold Glove defense and not hitting, no one will care about the defense. If he’s crushing the ball, people will forgive the mistakes at first. Alvarez didn’t just struggle defensively last year. He struggled on both sides, and the offensive side is the one that is more important.

Spring Training Previews

Today wrapped up the Spring Training previews. If you missed any of them, you can check out the links below.

MLB Spring Training

Lineup: The Pirates Lineup is Set, But Who Takes Over in the Event of an Injury?

Rotation: It’s Vance Worley vs Jeff Locke For the Lone Battle in the Rotation

Bench: Does Andrew Lambo Have the Final Bench Spot Locked Down?

Bullpen: The Pirates Will Have to Make Some Tough Roster Choices Now That They’re Contenders

MiLB Spring Training

Indianapolis: 2015 Indianapolis Indians: Top Prospects, Roster Projections, and Position Battles

Altoona: 2015 Altoona Curve: Top Prospects, Roster Projections, and Position Battles

Bradenton: Where Will Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire Start the Year?

West Virginia: Where are the West Virginia Breakout Candidates?

Other Notes

**The Pirates had five prospects on Baseball America’s Top 100 list. That is the last of the major top 100 prospect lists to be released. We will have more analysis on all of the lists tomorrow morning.

**MLB Expected To Announce Pace Of Play Rule Changes Tomorrow

**Draft Prospect Watch: Links and Notes From the First Week of College Baseball

First Pitch

  • The irony of Alvarez’s defensive issues is that, to his credit, he stayed agile enough to make range a non-factor. Never had problems getting to ball, just converting them into outs. That’s obviously now such less of a factor that I think he can absolutely be an above average 1B, maybe more. A couple half-speed fungos on the first day of spring training aren’t anything to worry about.

    The one part that is surprising to me is that they still seem to be focusing on his throwing mechanics. I’m no psychologist, but I highly doubt his issues are were in his arm. Does the org have a sports psychologist consulting with the coaching staff?

    As far as the bat goes, the Pirates have already turned him into an above average hitting 1B with the admittance that he shouldn’t be facing many lefties. That alone will go a long way to fixing his “consistency” issues.

    • Not sure he is an average hitting 1b even let alone above. Last year the 15th best 1b had an wRC+ of 122. Pedro has never had a season close to that good (114 rookie year is his peak). I guess the theory is that without worrying about defense so much he will be better, we shall see.

      • The position, as a whole, averaged a 109 wRC+ last season, which Alvarez should easily surpass facing mostly RHP.

        • If you count backups of course the average wRC+ decreases. I think to be an “above average” hitting 1B I’ll take the median starting 1B.

          • So we’re just making up the rules now. Ok.

            • what are you talking about? You said “above average 1B”, you want to characterize that as all 1B instead of starting 1B, even if you do then he is still not “above average” unless you want to pin your hopes on 3 points of wRC+. With the much tougher positional adjustment he is going to have a real hard time being worth 2 wins which is average for a starter.

              • Platoon, j. Platoon. Try to follow.

              • You are losing me here (not that my opinion is of much importance) but Alvarez is a career 118 wRC+ hitter versus RHP, Walker is a career 115 wRC+ hitter overall.

                One is going to struggle to be worth 2.0 Wins, the other is worth $12-15 million/season playing 1B in his post peak years?

  • I’m with you tim about pedro at first, I have been very critical of him in the past. He now has a chance to redeem himself and I am willing to wait and see what he does before I criticize him. Good luck pedro. As for the central I’ve said before that this is the year of the buc and I’m sticking to that. And finally the prospects, it is a stacked deck the pirates are working with with a lot of options if only one out of every three work out the team will be contenders for many years.

    • pb: Agree with all except the wild card in all of this could be Cole Hamels. The Red Sox, according to reports, are not offering high prospects, and his statement to the press earlier this week lit a fire under Amaro. If he is not traded to anyone in the NL, I could live with that. However, my fear is that he will end up with the Cardinals or the Cubs.

      • It will probably take at least four players to get hamels away from philly, although it’s possible I just don’t see the cards or cubs giving up that much for him. More likely they wait for the deadline and get one of many soon to be fa.

  • Petey’s gonna be OK at 1B, at this point, he is what he is. But the reality is, he’s just keeping the position warm for the Bucs’; long-term 1B, Neil Walker. They will sign him to an extension and he will move there, either at the trading deadline this year when they move Pedro and let Kang play 2B, or next year.

    As the #6 hitter in the lineup, he doesn’t have to be great, just not terrible, for this year’s team to be great.

    • Arik Florimonte
      February 20, 2015 4:08 am

      I don’t believe Walker hits well enough for 1B, and certainly not enough for a 1B making $12-15M per year, which is ballpark for what he’ll get paid on the open market. Bell is plan A after Alvarez becomes a FA.

      I’m afraid Walker isn’t their long-term anything. The window for a long-term contract has passed.

      • There are 2 myths here
        1) Pedro was terrible hitting last year. He had a slighlty better than league average wRC+ of 103 and increased his BB and decreased his K rate to career best levels. The only dropoff was in ISO power.

        2) Pedro is a better hitter than Walker. Walker is a better hitter than Pedro even when Pedro led the league in HR. Pedro’s best season wRC+ in the last 3 years is 112. Walker’s worst wRC+ was 112. For their career Pedro is at 104, Walker at 115. Neil is projected at 123 for 2015, and Pedro at 113 which would be his best season. If you think Pedro hits well enough to play 1B, then so does Walker.

        • Those are fair points, but 1) Pedro doesn’t have a chronically injured back and 2) nobody is suggesting that we sign Pedro to a $12-15M extension to play first base. Maybe you do slide Walker over to 1B at some point (especially if Kang forces his way into the lineup) but that is not a good reason to sign him to a long term deal to handle the position

          • I don’t necessarily buy the chronic back issue, its not like he is missing months of time. There are a lot of people (myself included) who go through back issues in their late 20s that can be resolved with better training and conditioning of those muscles. Even so, Walker is a much better player than Pedro and is worth every bit of $12-15 million a year for the forsesable future.

            • To some team, yes.

              But the Pirates?

              That’s still a lot of money to be dumping into a slightly above average 1B, at best.

              • We already had this argument, Its not “dumping” if it is contract of good value. Locking up quality MLB regulars isn’t necessarily a bad plan.

                • Good contract value, as seen by who?

                  • By major league baseball standards, 1WAR=$7-8 million these days.

                    • Perhaps you’ve never noticed what end of the spectrum the Pirates fall on in regards to payroll.

                    • Assuming that the person you are having with discussion is an idiot is a really poor strategy. The Pirates have increased payroll every year since the winning has began. I fail to see how paying Walker $12-15 million a year is going to cripple the franchise in any way. Burnett’s salary comes off the books, you are only going to pay Neil or Pedro, not both so there is more money. Signing Walker to a reasonable deal increases his trade value as well and if Hanson or Kang were to work out you can cash in. IF management does nothing then we lose Walker and Pedro for very little (Pedro’s case nothing, Walker’s maybe a comp pick). An extension in the 4 year $55 million range has almost no downside barring career altering injury. There is no sense arguing a point where there is clear disagreement.

              • Have a look around the league at the “average” 1B. Neil is well above average. And if he gives them a reasonable hometown discount, which I think he will, he’s better than any of the other “solutions” out there.

                Imagine this team last year with Walker at 1B instead of Valley Fever boy.

              • when there aren’t any better options on the free market (and lately there hasn’t been) then what choice do you have? Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez are not acceptable regardless of the cost savings

            • I think it will be amazing how much the back issue is reduced when Neil is not subjected to hard charging ballplayers bearing down on him with their cleats when he is trying to turn the DP. Moving him to 1B may not be what he wants, but will vastly prolong his career.

        • Arik Florimonte
          February 20, 2015 1:38 pm

          I will grant you both points. But I think neither Walker nor Alvarez will be here in two years. I’m not writing in the names of Bell, Hansen, or Kang in ink, but those three are probably plan A for 1B & 2B for 2017.

          • Arik, you are stating a specific example of what has to be the Pirates’ eternal plan if they are to remain consistently competitive. They have to be willing to abandon very good, older, more expensive players for younger, relatively unproven, much less expensive players to be able to field an excellent 25 man roster within the fiscal constraints of a small market team. It is going to be excruciating for the fan base to continually let go of a known entity for an unknown prospect. And every time an exchange doesn’t work out there will be howls of condemnation of management and “I told you so’s” from the fan base. But if the Pirates successfully build their minor league system either most of the transitions will work out, or they will be able to trade for or sign replacements for those who don’t. Life will go on, and the Pirates’ will always contend.

      • I hope Bell will adjust to 1B and be a great prospect and push Neil off the team. So far, he hasn’t exactly taken to 1B. This will be an important year for him, we will see.

    • gw: Yep, I think Neil could be an excellent guy at 1B. He grew up as a Catcher, so footwork, blocking, and good hands are a given. When he was moved to 3B in AA, he was voted the Best Defensive 3B in the Eastern League by the Managers. Then the move to 2B where he is now recognized as one of the best in MLB. But, I think the guy to replace him will be Alen Hanson, who will become our switchhitting, leadoff batter.

      Pedro looks good, and I hope he has listened to some of the experts over the Winter with their suggestions that he (and many other dead-pull hitters in the majors) need to use the whole field if they want to see better pitches.

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