In many ways, the Pirates and Pedro Alvarez appear to be a perfect match.
Vanderbilt University's exceptional third baseman is widely viewed as the best hitter available in Major League Baseball's draft, with a sweet swing from the left side, terrific power from a strapping 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame, and the patience and pitch recognition to make those traits count.
One American League scout calls the power "ridiculous."
Small wonder, then, that the Pirates are thought to be leaning toward Alvarez when they pick No. 2 overall Thursday. The Tampa Bay Rays pick first, but they are set at third base with Evan Longoria -- also 21 years old -- and are expected to choose between Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham and Florida State University catcher Buster Posey.
MLB's Draft 2008
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.
"It would be a privilege and an honor to get drafted by the Pirates," he said yesterday from Nashville, Tenn. "Right now, I don't know much about them, but I would get to know all about them if drafted."
Getting to know Alvarez, then ...
In his first three collegiate seasons, he batted .349 with 49 home runs in 170 games. But this season, which ended for Vanderbilt with an NCAA regional loss Sunday, represented a step sideways, if not backward.
He lost six weeks to a broken hamate bone in his right hand and, upon returning April 3, batted .317 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 40 games the rest of the way. He struck out 28 times, but he drew just as many walks to sustain a very healthy .424 on-base percentage.
It was the lack of power that concerned some, though the hamate injury is known to sap a hitter's power for 12-18 months. As a result, Beckham, Posey and others crept into the No. 1 overall picture that had been solely Alvarez's domain for months beforehand.
Moreover, his defense at third base, despite a strong arm, did not progress much -- he had 10 errors -- and some scouts project that he will have to move to first base.
"Those who like Pedro a lot see him as a good hitter with power," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "They also see him as someone who can stay at third base. Obviously, if he can do that, that impacts his value significantly."
The Pirates have checked Alvarez's medical records and have no issue with the hand, but Huntington acknowledges that it affected him.
"He's come back OK from it," Huntington said. "He has had some contact issues. He hasn't had the kind of dominant performance you'd like to see from someone you'd take 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 in the country. But he's a quality left-handed hitter and a quality person."
Born and raised in New York, the son of Dominican immigrants, Alvarez was impressive enough out of high school that the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 14th round three years ago. He turned down a signing bonus of close to $1 million to attend Vanderbilt, largely at his parents' urging.
Observers describe Alvarez as an intense competitor and exemplary teammate, which might explain Alvarez's recollection of his reaction to having the hand broken by a pitch in his third plate appearance this season.
"I was upset because I want to be out there playing," he said. "But I made the best out of it. I was in the dugout like another coach. I got to see another view of the game, learn something like that. For being hurt, I think I stayed pretty optimistic about it."
And the draft?
"I wasn't thinking about that."
If the Pirates take Alvarez, the primary issue, as is well known, will be signing him. He is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, whose demands often exceed the norm and keep teams away from his clients. In this case, he has sent signals that he will seek a $7 million bonus, as well as an immediate major league contract.
Such a bonus would blow away the $4 million Boras got for the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, shortstop Mike Moustakas, from the Kansas City Royals. The top pick last year, pitcher David Price, got a $5.6 million bonus and a major league contract from Tampa Bay.
Players must be signed by Aug. 15. If they are not, the team is compensated with a comparable pick the following year.
Boras did not return calls.
The Pirates have strongly indicated they will take the player they want, regardless of money matters, and Huntington reiterated that in a letter sent to season-ticket holders yesterday.
"Since being named general manager eight months ago, I have been frequently asked if the Pirates will select the best player available with our first-round selection," Huntington wrote. "The answer to that question was then and is now: The Pittsburgh Pirates will select the player we view as the best available player."
NOTES -- Posey's Florida State team advanced past the NCAA regional round by beating Tulane, 16-7, last night in Tallahassee, Fla. Posey went 1 for 4 with three walks. ... Jimmy Beckham, Tim Beckham's father, said his son considered Boras as an agent but declined because of Boras' reputation for long negotiations. "We knew there was a chance we'd get more money with Scott, but our son wants to play baseball right away," the elder Beckham said. The Beckhams are being represented by Greg Genske.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published June 3, 2008 4:00 AM