If Pedro Alvarez does begin belting balls toward the Allegheny River this summer, as so many expect, someone somewhere is bound to credit the Pirates for having pushed him to upgrade his conditioning in the offseason.
If so, that will tell only part of the story, perhaps a very small part.
Because, to hear from Alvarez and others who have enrolled at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., the motivation to endure, much less embrace API's boot-camp lifestyle -- early to bed, up at 6 a.m., two robust workouts a day, strict dietary monitoring -- must come from within.
"It's pretty intense, pretty much a whole-day ordeal," Alvarez said by phone from Tempe late in the week. "And, in this sport or in anything in life, you can't be motivated by other people. You have to be self-motivated. More times than not, when you're doing something like this, you're by yourself. Not everyone's going to be looking over your shoulder. If you're not motivated, you're just not going to get it done."
He made clear which category he prefers.
"I'm someone who wants to play this game for a long time, someone who's really passionate about it, someone who cares enough to always try the best they can. I decided to do this, and I love it. I love some of the results I'm getting."
Those results are not easily gauged: Alvarez's 6-foot-3 frame is naturally thick, and his weight is down less than 10 pounds from the 235 at which he played most of this past season. But his body-fat ratio is much improved, according to the Pirates' management, as some of his weight is being converted to muscle.
And there is more to come, as Alvarez's twice-daily workouts just began this week and will continue through January. He already has been at API for six weeks, meaning his stay will end up totaling 2 1/2 months. Most athletes are in and out of API in two weeks or so.
The Pirates had been openly critical of Alvarez's conditioning last winter, blaming that mostly on his being idle for eight months during that high-profile contract dispute in 2008. That has turned increasingly into praise in recent months, if somewhat guarded.
"We still have work to do," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But we've seen very encouraging signs."
"I'm very encouraged, especially when you consider that Pedro just completed his first full season of pro ball," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "He's working to develop excellent habits."
Those habits, as well as striking a balance between feeling stronger at the plate and more agile at third base, are Alvarez's stated priorities much more than the number on the scale.
"To be honest, I'm not so concerned about weight loss," Alvarez said. "It's like reading statistics. It doesn't tell everything. I want to be at a point where I feel good, where I still have my power, where I can move better, and where I can keep that going over a full season. I actually need to get to the point where I have a routine 365 days a year, not just playing baseball, but everything."
To that end, he has found advice easily attainable. Several of the game's top prospects currently are attending API, as well as more than a dozen current major leaguers on any given week. Last year, Freddy Sanchez was among them, as were Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox.
"Having all these players here, it makes such a difference," Alvarez said.
Alvarez, who will turn 23 in February, is seen by some as the Pirates' most promising prospect since Barry Bonds, and his dynamic professional debut only enhanced that: After a slow start in high Class A, he ended up with Class AA Altoona and batted .288 overall with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs.
Management plans to start him out with Class AAA Indianapolis next year and, if all goes well, he would arrive in Pittsburgh two or three months into the season.
How does Alvarez feel about that?
"It feels good," he said. "It's an honor just to be able to think that I could be up there with those guys. It's something I've always dreamed of."
• Here is where the Pirates currently are projecting some other top prospects to open 2010: Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and Danny Moskos in Class AAA, the latter getting a promotion; Gorkys Hernandez, Tim Alderson, Ramon Aguero, Chase D'Arnaud, Rudy Owens, Ronald Uviedo and Jeff Locke in Class AA, the latter four getting promotions; and Bryan Morris, Tony Sanchez, Robbie Grossman and Starling Marte in high Class A, the latter three getting promotions. (Sanchez and Marte were playoff additions this past season.)
• Moskos, the 23-year-old left-hander who was the first-round draft pick in 2007, not only is ticketed for Indianapolis but also, in all likelihood, back to the bullpen after two years of starting. The goal is to get him to Pittsburgh as early as next year. "Danny is at that point in his career where he's trying to compete for one of 12 jobs, not just one of five," Stark said. "I think the versatility could work in his favor."
• Alvarez, on his time with Andy LaRoche -- whose place at third base he would take upon being promoted -- during Instructional League ball in November: "He approached me, offered some advice, told me he'll do anything to help me. He's a great guy, and it would be an honor to be able to call him my teammate."
• The Pirates are open to using Kevin Hart or Daniel McCutchen in the bullpen, depending on which of those two does not win a spot in the rotation. Some scouts are of the mind that Hart's stuff, including his 96-mph fastball, is better suited for relief.
• Fifty-nine days until pitchers and catchers report.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .