INDIANAPOLIS -- Thwack.
There is less than an hour before the first pitch, and most of the Indianapolis Indians are relaxing in the clubhouse. Some are playing cards. Others are listening to music or watching TV. One is still working hard.
The Indians already had taken batting practice on the field, but Pedro Alvarez is taking more, spending more than half an hour in a batting cage, hidden in the bowels of Victory Field.
He emerges with beads of sweat scattered around his face -- and enough time to collect himself before he has to throw on a jersey and head to the field for the "Star-Spangled Banner."
This is the Alvarez that Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin knows well. The one who routinely stayed after practice at Vanderbilt to work on his hitting. The one who goes back to Nashville every offseason with a computer full of film, poring over at-bats with his former coach in an attempt to get better.
"If he's not hitting, he's going to," Corbin said. "He's hit at every level."
Pittsburgh's next great hope isn't in Pittsburgh anymore. He is in Indianapolis with the Class AAA Indians, trying to figure out what went wrong. The Pirates sent Alvarez to Indianapolis last week after the sluggish slugger's batting average dropped below .200.
But those who know him well believe it is only a matter of time until Alvarez, 24, regains the form that made him the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008.
"His will to succeed is very, very high," Corbin said.
Alvarez still has the same skills that made him such an attractive prospect -- fast hand speed, natural power, an ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, Corbin said.
"It's not the talent," said his agent, Scott Boras. "It's the consistency. ... There's nothing preventing him from achieving his goals and being a great player. He has the skills to do it, he has the will to do it and he has the intellect to do it.
But this extended slump is something new.
Alvarez spent less than two full seasons in the minor leagues after being drafted out of Vanderbilt. And his short time in the minors was relatively successful. Before that, Alvarez dominated, hitting better than .300 in each of his three seasons at Vanderbilt. At 19, he led Team USA in batting average as one of the team's youngest players.
But, entering Thursday, he had gone almost an entire month without hitting a home run at any level. He hit .174 in 20 games with the Pirates after returning from the disabled list. In Indianapolis, he is .120 through seven games.
"I think he's carried a lot of weight on his shoulders for a couple years," said Indianapolis Indians manager Dean Treanor. "This guy signed with a lot of hype. When he got to Pittsburgh last year, there was a lot of hope. He had a very good September, so the expectations rose for him. And things have not gone well for him this year."
Alvarez, a natural power hitter, hit just three home runs in 194 major league at-bats this season. He put up little argument when the Pirates optioned him to Indianapolis.
"It's a matter of accountability," he said.
"I have to be held accountable to my dedication and my productivity. All I ask is to be held accountable. What I was doing up there at the time wasn't conducive to the best possibility for the team."
Alvarez hopes to rejoin the Pirates when the major league rosters expand Thursday or when the Indians finish their season a few days later. He could play winter ball -- internally, the Pirates have discussed that possibility -- but the team has not made that decision.
In Indianapolis, Alvarez is trying to find a consistent approach at the plate -- look for certain pitches and attack them with a consistent swing.
"At this point, we're not worried too much on results," he said. "Just worried on making that progress to feel comfortable at the plate and give me the best opportunity to be able to produce."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has said one of Alvarez's biggest faults this year was that he has tried too hard at the plate.
Those who work with him now are trying to simplify Alvarez's approach.
"I just want him to relax here, get his stroke back, get his mind clear and become the player that he wants to become, not what everyone else wants him to become," Treanor said.
But Alvarez insisted he is still motivated by the same forces that drove him to success in college and in the minors -- what Corbin calls a "quiet, inner feeling" that always has pushed Alvarez to pursue greatness.
"I don't think anyone holds me to a higher standard than myself," Alvarez said. "Any external expectations fall beneath mine. That's the bottom line."