BRADENTON, Fla. -- Two of the Pirates' top three prospects, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and pitcher Brad Lincoln, reported to minicamp in exemplary shape. McCutchen gained 10 pounds of solid muscle, and no one heard more praise for his physique than the newly svelte Lincoln.
The other of those three prospects, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, is a different matter.
Management is dissatisfied with the conditioning of Alvarez, the team's highly touted first-round draft pick in 2008, to the point that he will need to improve if, as projected, he is to be assigned to high Class A Lynchburg to start his professional career this spring. If not, he will go to low Class A Charleston.
"In general, we're very, very happy with the way our players have reported here," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "It's been very encouraging."
Of Alvarez specifically, he acknowledged that there are "conditioning" issues.
There are two such issues, according to multiple team officials:
1. He is above his playing weight and not as strong as usual.
2. He is experiencing tendinitis in both knees, though it is not serious. He has participated in all drills at this camp, including running.
The latter might explain the former, given that the knees have limited Alvarez's exercises the past few months. But the original cause of Alvarez's problems might have been his extended contract dispute last summer. The Pirates were assured all through those three months by Alvarez's side that he was working out, but team officials confirmed this week that he has not been in peak shape since signing the contract -- four years with a $6 million bonus -- in late September.
Since then, he has participated in all team functions, including two conditioning camps and this minicamp.
Alvarez declined a general interview request
McCutchen's added bulk -- 5 feet 11, 185 pounds now, every millimeter of it sculpted -- came through what he called "hard work and dedication," as well as simple maturity in turning 22 two months ago.
As minor league field coordinator Jeff Banister put it, "He's a man now, ain't he?"
McCutchen batted .283 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs as the youngest player on the Class AAA Indianapolis roster, and the lone missing ingredient to his game would appear to be the power that so many had projected for him. But he was adamant that was not his motivation.
"I just wanted to keep myself strong for the whole season, so getting a little bigger helps," he said. "I'm starting to mature a little bit. Maybe it's the metabolism. I know that, when I get on the scale after lifting weights, I'm gaining now. I didn't used to do that."
His real motivation, from the sound of it, is making the Pirates' roster right away, even though their plan has him starting out at Indianapolis again.
"My picture of 2009 is that I'm there right out of spring training, man. The 25-man roster. That's where you've got to set it. That's where I've set it every year. Otherwise, what are you doing? You're just going to be there."
Lincoln, 23, is set to start at Class AA Altoona, and he is anticipating his first full worry-free year since reconstructive elbow surgery cost him all 2007. He was 6-10 with a 4.69 ERA last season, split between the two Class A affiliates, but management feels strongly that he outperformed those numbers.
"There's a big difference in knowing I can just go out there and think about nothing but pitching," Lincoln said. "That's probably the best feeling of all."
NOTES -- Starter Jeff Karstens was held out of his bullpen session because of slight elbow discomfort yesterday on the third day of minicamp. It is "nothing serious," he said, and team officials concurred. He is expected to resume throwing Monday. ... All other pitchers -- including Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell and Ross Ohlendorf -- took their regular turns. Gorzelanny has looked exceptionally sharp all through minicamp. ... Minicamp concludes with a brief session this morning. ... General manager Neal Huntington hired veteran baseball man Bill Lajoie as a senior adviser, joining Chuck Tanner in that role. Lajoie, 74, spent the past three years in the same capacity with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 17, 2009 5:00 AM