Prospect Watch: Pedro Alvarez

With the recent promotion of Texas’ top hitting prospect Justin Smoak, the 2010 MLB prospect call-up watch is in full effect. There’s a lot of speculation that Indians catcher Carlos Santana may be the next big-named prospect to make his major league debut, but there should be some eyes on Pittsburgh, too.

Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick of the ’08 draft out of Vanderbilt University, put himself on the must-watch list after a solid ’09 performance that included a .333/.419/.590 line in half a season at double-A. Overall, he managed 27 homers and 95 RBI in 126 games.

Alvarez is not currently tearing up triple-A like Smoak was, but the Pirates prospect is still hitting a respectable .258/.343/.484 in 16 games. After slugging three homers in the first week of the ’10 season, Alvarez has managed just one (and three extra base hits) in the last 10 games.

A left-handed hitter, Alvarez is struggling against southpaws with a .458 OPS in a small sample size. However, it’s been a career trend so far as his splits last season were: .714 OPS vs LHPs, 1.028 vs RHPs). Clearly he has work to do, but the Pirates big league club needs help.

In truth, the pitching is really what’s been bad – okay, terrible – for the big league club. It’s a huge reason why the club has lost six straight and has a 7-11 record. The Pirates club is also last in the NL in batting average at .224, which is even worse than the lowly Astros. It also has the second-lowest team wOBA at .301 and ISO rate at .122.

The club currently employs Andy LaRoche at third base. He was hitting .258/.378/.355 in 37 at-bats going into Sunday’s game when he went 4-for-4, and he’s coming off of a .324 wOBA season in ’09. If you’re not ready to move LaRoche, maybe we need to look at first base, where former top prospect (of the Mariners) Jeff Clement is currently hitting a paltry .174/.220/.326 in 46 at-bats. His career wOBA in 88 games is .291.

Most scouts feel Alvarez is destined to move across to first base, where his value would take a small hit. Even so, now may be the time, given the club’s needs and bleak outlook at the position. The time to call up Alvarez is probably not quite upon us, but it’s getting close.

SCOUTING SIDEBAR: I had a chance to watch Alvarez on April 23 against Louisville. Criticized for carrying extra weight in the past, the prospect is still thick around the middle but he moves pretty well. He made a nice play on a slow grounder to third base, although the throw had to be scooped out of the dirt by first baseman Steve Pearce. Alvarez also showed a pretty good eye at the plate and walked in the first. He also shocked me with pretty good form on an attempted sacrifice bunt out in front of home plate that just bounced foul.

Jose Tabata looks like he’s trimmed down a bit, which explains the league-leading eight steals. He was aggressive during the first at-bat of the game, swinging at the first three pitches. It wasn’t a great approach for the lead-off hitter. He was much better in his second at-bat. He took a few pitches and then got into a hitter’s count, saw a poorly-placed fastball and singled on it. His base running needs work. Tabata was picked off second base by the catcher on a missed bunt attempt.

With some teams struggling with injuries to catchers (Rangers, Angels), someone really needs to look at Erik Kratz (yes, I’m pimping him again). He’s a big target behind the plate, but he moves well for his size and is a quiet receiver. He also showed good pull power with a two-run home run on an inside fastball. He does have an upper-cut swing and probably won’t hit for a great average.

Former No. 1 prospect Neil Walker was playing second base in an attempt to increase his versatility and value. He actually looked pretty good at the plate – with some opposite-field power on display on a deep fly ball to the track – but I didn’t get much of a look at him in the field.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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