Spring training: Alvarez cut, but soon to return?

Pirates' top prospect sent early to minor league camp due to technicality

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates cut Pedro Alvarez from their spring roster early Friday morning, essentially on a technicality.

And it likely will be another technicality that dictates when he arrives in Pittsburgh this summer.

Alvarez, the franchise's top prospect, was one of eight players cut, along with outfielders Jose Tabata and Jonathan Van Every, infielder Doug Bernier and injured pitchers Tyler Yates, Neal Cotts, Craig Hansen and Jimmy Barthmaier. Alvarez and Tabata were optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis, the rest reassigned to minor league camp. That left the main camp roster at 45.

General manager Neal Huntington explained that the Pirates would have preferred to keep Alvarez and Tabata, another promising prospect, in the fold longer this spring. But Friday marked the deadline to option anyone who did not play in the majors the previous season. If such a player were to stay in the main camp beyond the deadline and get hurt, he could accrue up to a full year of major league service time and, thus, get a year closer to free agency.

"This is where the roster bites us," Huntington said. "It's rare that someone's gotten hurt, but it's happened."

  • Game: Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:05 p.m., Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Fla. RHP Charlie Morton vs. RHP Brad Bergesen. Other pitchers: D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Jack Taschner, Chris Jakubauskas.
  • Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Camp roster: 45 players, including 24 pitchers, 5 catchers, 9 infielders, 7 outfielders
  • Injuries: RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
  • Opener: 16 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park

As for the other technicality, the one that could affect Alvarez's debut, that is far less precise.

A player needs 172 days in the majors to accrue a full year of service time, and he needs six full years to qualify for free agency. If that were the only variable, the Pirates could simply wait a couple weeks and promote Alvarez with no contractual impact.

It is not the only one, though: A player usually needs three years of service time to qualify for salary arbitration, but there is a category called Super-2 for a select few with less than three years. The Pirates, like most teams, prefer to avoid that category. To do so, teams generally wait until two months into the season to promote such a player, though there is no firm date because the Super-2 category fluctuates each year.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was in a similar situation last spring, and he arrived June 4.

Huntington's focus Friday in discussing Alvarez's future had nothing to do with technicalities and everything to do with having Alvarez use his time in Indianapolis, his first at the Class AAA level, to improve his fielding -- management is intent on keeping him at third base -- as well as hitting left-handers.

"Pedro's going to get everybody's lefty situational guy, so the left-on-left approach is going to be really important for his big-picture success," Huntington said. "He just needs continued development. It's hard to remember that Pedro hasn't swung the bat against anybody above Class AA at this point."

Alvarez, 23, acquitted himself well in all facets this spring, batting.296 with two triples, two doubles and four RBIs in 27 at-bats, and showing a consistent glove and strong arm at third. He also carried himself with a professionalism that impressed many teammates.

Although Alvarez had a stated aim of making the team this spring, he appeared to handle the cut well.

"I feel very confident in my ability to play this game at this level," he said. "Management has been around longer than I have, and they're the best judges of when I'm ready. I thought I was ready to play professional ball coming out of high school and, after going to college, I realized that, both mentally and physically, I wasn't ready. I'm going to work to be ready for my opportunity when, hopefully, it comes."

Jones breaks out

Garrett Jones hit a two-run home run and an RBI double in the Pirates' 9-7 victory against the Boston Red Sox Friday at McKechnie Field.

Delwyn Young, Steve Pearce and John Raynor also homered.

Jones had entered batting .167, with nine strikeouts in 30 at-bats, but he put full force into both hits in his three at-bats: The home run, off Scott Atchison in the fifth, went well beyond the fence in right-center, and the earlier double cleared the leaping try of backtracking center fielder Mike Cameron.

"That's how I want to feel during the season," Jones said. "Nice and loose, using the hands, staying back for the most part. Both at-bats, I saw the ball well, stayed back and went up the middle."

Young's home run, a two-run shot off Josh Beckett in the fourth, was his fifth run in six games. His total of five home runs is tied for the Grapefruit League lead with the Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez.

Pearce's two-run shot in the seventh, his second home run, broke a 6-6 tie.

Paul Maholm allowed three runs -- one earned -- and four hits, including David Ortiz's two-run home run, in his four-inning start. His spring ERA is 2.70.

Buried treasure

• Reliever Joel Hanrahan, out all spring because of an elbow injury, will throw a live batting practice Sunday. He is on a recovery pace similar to that of closer Octavio Dotel, but management would prefer to have Hanrahan sit out at least the first few days of the season.

• Neil Walker, a third baseman by trade, played right field -- a spring first for him -- for the final four innings, part of the Pirates' plan to expand positional options with him. He is 5 for 10 at the plate.

• Brandon Moss finally ended his 0-for-22 drought with a line-drive single to right in the seventh.

• Tabata, 21, batted .250 with two triples in 28 at-bats. He will be Indianapolis' center fielder, and his road to Pittsburgh likely will be longer than Alvarez's. Management wants more power -- he hit five home runs in 94 games last year -- and other refinements. "Just continued maturation," Huntington said.

Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog .


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