By JAY LeBLANC
The Pittsburgh Pirates famously passed on Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft because of his record bonus demands and instead selected left-hander Daniel Moskos with the fourth overall pick. The gaffe proved to be the final straw for General Manager Dave Littlefield, who was fired two months later, and while Moskos scuffled in advanced Class A last season, Wieters - taken with the very next pick by the Baltimore Orioles - slugged his way to Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors. Given that backdrop, it came as no surprise when new GM Neal Huntington took Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the best hitting prospect available, with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft despite reports that Alvarez’s agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a $9 million major league contract.
The Pirates knew contentious negotiations were in store, but they appeared to be over when the club announced just moments before the Aug. 15 signing deadline that Alvarez had agreed to a minor league deal that included a $6 million bonus. 12 days later, however, Boras claimed the deal hadn’t been reached until 12:02 a.m. - two minutes after the deadline. The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance on Alvarez’s behalf, but the two sides ended up settling the matter on Sept. 24, effectively nullifying the grievance. Alvarez ended up getting a four-year major league deal worth a guaranteed $6.355 million. The dragged-out talks delayed his pro debut until this season, but he did take part in fall instructional league.
Only a broken hamate bone suffered early in his junior season kept Alvarez from being a three-time All-American at Vanderbilt, and his success in the competitive Southeastern Conference prompted the Pirates to have him skip a few minor league levels and begin his professional career with the advanced Class A Lynchburg Hillcats this season. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder ranks second in the Carolina League in both home runs (eight) and RBI (34), but is hitting just .232 with 41 strikeouts in his first 142 professional at bats. Despite his so-so start, the Pirates expect the 22-year-old to find his stroke sooner rather than later and become a fixture in the middle of their order within the next few years.
I had a chance to speak with Alvarez - who entered this season ranked as the top prospect in the Pirates organization and the 12th best in all of baseball by Baseball America - on Tuesday night after his Hillcats beat the Orioles-affiliated Frederick Keys 2-1 at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Md.
Q: You were drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school (14th round, 2005) but chose to attend Vanderbilt instead. Was that a difficult decision for you? And why did you decide to go the college route?
A: It was difficult. I grew up a Red Sox fan because of my dad, but I thought that, at the time, I wasn’t ready for [pro ball], and college was the best fit for me. It just so happened to work out that way.
Q: Your contract negotiations with the Pirates went right up to the signing deadline last summer. Were you confident all along that a deal would get done, or did you start to consider other options?
A: I knew that everything was going to work out, and I’m glad that I’m here now and I’m playing.
Q: What is the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make going from college to pro ball?
A: Playing every day. Playing every day and having a routine and sticking with it every day.
Q: Do you step up to the plate with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions?
A: You know, you go up there with an approach and try to stick to your approach. Sometimes you have to adjust according to the pitcher, depending on how good he’s throwing that day, and sometimes you can just stick with your approach. For the most part, I go up there with my own plan.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first pro season?
A: Just to learn as much as I can, play to the best of my ability and try to improve my game as much as possible.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: There’s a number of players. Scott Rolen - I’ve always looked up to him. Ryan Zimmerman, the young guys coming up now … I’ve been a big fan of Manny Ramirez at the plate, and A-Rod … I’m a baseball fan, so I like a lot of guys.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Pirates?
A: I’m taking it day by day and whatever happens, happens, but I’m here now and I just know that I have to work as hard as I can, play to the best of my ability and just worry about the process.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 -Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles.
2008 -Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.