The Pirates are in no position to say definitively which player they will select at No. 2 overall in Major League Baseball's draft Thursday, but there are strong indications, internally and externally, that they favor Vanderbilt University third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
That might surprise some.
MLB's Draft 2008
Monday: Georgia's Tim Beckham is the top high school talent available. Does that make him less of a known commodity? Or the one with the highest upside?
Tuesday: For months, Vanderbilt University's Pedro Alvarez was the consensus No. 1. Then, he broke a bone in his hand. Is he still No. 1?
Wednesday: It is not often that a superior athlete goes behind the plate. But that is where Buster Posey, a converted shortstop and pitcher, has excelled at Florida State.
For one, Alvarez, a 21-year-old left-handed power hitter, is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who has sent signals that he will seek a bonus in excess of $7 million, as well as an immediate major league contract.
For another, some scouts have soured on Alvarez because his junior year was disrupted by a broken hamate bone in his right hand and, after an encouraging return in early April, he went 3 for 21 with seven strikeouts in the recent Southeastern Conference tournament.
Still, Alvarez is the Pirates' target, according to multiple sources, and they already have placed feelers with Boras to set the stage for drafting him.
"If he falls to them, he's their guy," one source said.
Alvarez's hand is no concern, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said last week, partly because they checked his medical records, partly because doctors have told Huntington the hamate is a "useless" body part. A break in that bone, for baseball players, often results in a loss of power for 12-18 months, but full recoveries are common.
As for Boras ...
"I've dealt with Scott maybe a half-dozen times and enjoyed my discussions with him," Huntington said.
The Pirates are known to have had extensive interviews with three other prospects, including the other two finalists on their list: Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham and Florida State University catcher Buster Posey. But their hope is that Tampa Bay, the team picking first, will pass on Alvarez.
Although the Rays formally list five players as finalists, the scouting world is virtually unanimous in believing they will pick between Beckham and Posey, with a lean toward Beckham.
Apart from Beckham's five-tool talent that some scouts believe make him the best long-term bet, the main reason Tampa Bay might pass on Alvarez is that its future at third base is secure with sensational rookie Evan Longoria, 21, recently signed to a long-term contract.
Alvarez's Vanderbilt team is playing in the NCAA regional tournament in Tempe, Ariz., and he is 3 for 8 with a triple so far. Overall, in 39 games, he is batting .315 with nine home runs and 29 RBIs.
Beckham's Griffin High School team lost the Georgia state Class AAAA final with two losses Friday night, but he had four hits and finished the playoffs with a .667 playoff average.
Posey's Florida State team is 1-1 in the NCAA regional in Tallahassee, Fla., and he is 3 for 7 with a home run and three walks. In 59 games, he is batting .462 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .