PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 03: Pedro Alvarez #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes a face after taking a strike against the Chicago Cubs in the ninth inning during the game on August 3, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
I don't really disagree with Tim's general point here, which is that Pedro Alvarez should stick in the majors. But I do think we've reached the point with Alvarez where there are some pretty serious problems that can't be hand-waved away.
Tim compares Alvarez to Aramis Ramirez and Jose Bautista, who both struggled early in their careers. But frankly, I don't think comparisons to those players are flattering to Alvarez. Although they both went on to have success, Ramirez and Bautista have excuses for their early struggles that Alvarez doesn't have. Ramirez was called up to the big leagues at an absurdly young age, then jerked around between Class AAA and the big leagues for the better part of three years. Bautista missed a ton of development time due to the Rule 5 process. And while he eventually had success, it was success that no one saw coming. So if you want to compare Alvarez to Bautista, you've really got some problems, because what it really seems like you're saying is that Alvarez can someday miraculously become a great player after making some adjustments to his swing. Bautista is a historically-unique player, and we shouldn't expect, or even hope for, any other player to develop the way he did.
Now, there's no doubt that some of the 'Get rid of Pedro!' stuff you hear on talk radio is way over the top. The guy began his pro career less than three years ago, and it's true that baseball history is filled with guys who struggled initially but eventually made it.
Unfortunately, it's also filled with guys who struggled initially and never made it. And that includes early-first-round draft picks. And looking back on it, Alvarez's minor-league profile is filled with warning signs that I and others were probably guilty of worrying too little about, due to his pedigree. He did beat up on minor-league pitching, due in part to his tremendous power, but he also struck out way too frequently.
This year, he's hitting .206/.276/.303. That's not, in itself, a good reason to give up on him. But there's also the way he looks out there. His strike-zone judgment is just awful. It's easy for pitchers to get him to swing and miss, and anything low and out of the strike zone, forget it. It reminds me of the way people used to talk about Craig Wilson. Right now, Alvarez actually is as bad as Wilson's detractors thought he was - he has no clue how to harness his power, to the point that it hardly has even showed up this year.
It is possible that Alvarez could go on a tear starting tomorrow. If there's anything that we know about his career so far, it's that he's prone to looking clueless for extended periods and then going on massive homer binges. But at this point, I wish the front office had stuck with its evaluation of him and left him in Class AAA for awhile. (I'm not sure they should send him back now, because I don't want him to be jerked back and forth.) The Pirates only called him up because they needed a bat, and not because they believed his problems were fixed.
It would be ridiculous to give up on Alvarez at this point. But we're also past the point where concerns about him should be dismissed. He might still become a great player. Or his problems making contact might eat him alive. Either one is possible. Is he a bust? No. Is there a strong chance he could become one? Unfortunately, yes, there is.