Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez shares a laugh with hitting coach Don Long at Pirate City in Bradenton Fla, Friday.
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- No precise timetable consumes him. No calendar flips in his mind.
Yet Pedro Alvarez admits, sure, he wants to rise to the major league Pirates sometime in 2010.
"Of course, you know. Every day," Alvarez, the club's celebrated second overall selection in the 2008 draft, said Friday inside the Pirate City clubhouse. "It's just hopefully that one day [is] getting sooner and sooner.
"I'm not saying that I need to be up here this year. If it just so happens that I get the opportunity this year, then I'm going to gratefully accept it. If it's later on, then I just know that I have to keep working hard so I can get the opportunity to maybe make it up to Pittsburgh."
Alvarez apparently has done his part so far. He was counseled about his conditioning and diet when sent to the minor league camp from Pirates spring training a year ago and again after his powerful Lyncbhurg/Altoona debuts, and he responded by spending 12 offseason weeks in Arizona. What emerged from the Athletes Performance Institute in suburban Phoenix is a slimmer, trimmer, stronger Alvarez.
Though he didn't divulge the exact numbers, the media guide lists him at 223 pounds -- down a dozen from the 235 published a year ago.
To him, the change is simple: He feels better.
"Definitely came in different than what I did last year," said Alvarez, 23, who became overweight due to tendinitis in the months preceding 2009 spring training. "I feel a lot better.
"Baseball shape is baseball shape. That stuff takes its time. Will I get in baseball shape quicker because of the conditioning I did? Possibly. I'm still trying to learn things. This will be my second year in pro ball. The learning curve is still on my side. I'm just trying to establish a routine for next year, and now I know what I'm going to do next year. Every day I learn a little bit more and more."
Pirates manager John Russell added: "He worked hard. Went to Arizona and did some good things. This will be a good camp for him to come in and get ready for the season. We're very pleased with the work that he did in the offseason. Now he has to continue that. I think that's the biggest thing for Pedro, continue the process, continue working hard. Obviously, he's a very talented player."
Alvarez, a third baseman from Vanderbilt, was named the Pirates' minor league player of the year -- in his first one, remember -- after leading the organization by far with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs. Seriously, he did lead the organization: No one on the major league roster came close to those numbers, even if you somehow extrapolated the traded Adam LaRoche's 25 and 83. The 6-foot-3 slugger, who improved to a .333 average in Class AA Altoona, followed his sturdy freshman pro year with five homers and 12 RBIs in 15 games helping Team USA win the International Baseball Federation's World Cup.
After such a debut, a franchise's cornerstone prospect can be excused for eagerly anticipating a leap onto the big league club, though Pirates officials assert that they will take their time with him. That likely means Class AAA Indianapolis first. Alvarez similarly preaches patience.
"Just take it one day at a time," he said. "What happens at the end of spring, just go from there. Wherever it is, take the same approach I took last year: work as hard as I can, help out the organization as much as possible."
Russell at separate moments spoke highly of Kevin Hart and lumped Daniel McCutchen with the bullpen, but he later stated that he didn't mean their race for the No. 5 starter to sound anywhere close to settled.
"I mean, there's competition, and he knows it," Russell continued of Hart. "He's going to do everything he can to make sure that he makes a good impression and shows that he's ready for it. We got some other very good candidates. But he's working awfully hard. Time will tell. But he's in a good position."
• Jean Machi pitched Friday, the day after being withheld from scheduled mound work while undergoing further physical exams. Rehabilitating pitchers Neal Cotts (mid-June) and Jimmy Barthmaier (mid-May) threw 60 and 30 pitches, respectively, off a mound, Tyler Yates (July) and Craig Hansen (unknown) threw long toss.
• Pine-Richland's Neil Walker worked at second base during a lightly populated session, with formal position-player workouts beginning Tuesday.
• With Ryan Church reporting but not working out Friday, that leaves seven players who have yet to appear at Pirate City: Ronny Cedeno, Argenis Diaz, Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Jonathan Van Every and Delwyn Young.
• Octavio Dotel threw off a mound Friday, and Russell liked what he saw in a veteran returning to the closer role for the first time in three years. "Oh yeah. He's excited about it. That's one of the biggest things, a guy who wants to thrive in that situation. It's a tough inning to pitch. And he's got the mentality and the makeup to do it. He was very professional about his side [session Friday], did everything right. That's the veteran that he is. It's good to see him out there, and he's ready to go."