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Buster Posey and Pedro Alvarez illustrate the inexact science of the MLB Draft

The Bucs took Alvarez in 2008 with the recently-retired Posey still on the board.

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez (24) scores on a sacrifice fly by Gaby Sanchez (14) as San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) looks on in the fifth inning of a MLB game at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. (Ray Chav Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

One of the first people I thought about after hearing of Buster Posey’s decision to retire last week was one Pedro Alvarez.

No, the two weren’t college teammates, although perhaps they played together on some Team USA squad somewhere along the lines during their amateur careers. But they were both prominent prospects heading into the 2008 Major League Baseball draft, and the Pittsburgh Pirates – who owned the second overall pick — were in a position to select either one of them.

I don’t recall many fans unhappy with the Bucs’ decision to take Alvarez after the Tampa Bay Rays pretty much whiffed by taking a Georgia prep shortstop named Tim Beckham with the overall No. 1 pick. According to Baseball America, Alvarez was the top-rated prospect going into the draft, a power-hitting third baseman from Vanderbilt who looked like a lock to be a power-hitting, middle-of-the-order bat for years to come.

“Blessed with plus raw power, he is also an advanced hitter with a professional approach,” the Baseball America staff wrote in late May that year. “At third base, his defensive skills and footwork have improved since he arrived at Vanderbilt. His arm is plenty for the corner and his athleticism is a plus.”

The only reservations I recall at the time focused not on Alvarez’s skills on the diamond, but the fact that he was represented by Scott Boras. Those concerns were well-founded; contract negotiations for Alvarez went right down to the wire before the signing actually took place.

Posey, meanwhile, arrived at Florida State as a shortstop, was converted to catcher before his sophomore year and elevated his game to the point where Baseball America ranked him the No. 4 prospect overall entering the 2008 draft. The publication lauded his arm strength, receiving, footwork and release, and called him one of the safest picks in that year’s draft – an offensive catcher with Gold Glove-caliber defense.

Posey, who wound up falling to the San Francisco Giants at No. 5, certainly proved to be all of that and then some, as he parlayed those talents into what is arguably a Hall of Fame career. For his 12-year stay in big leagues, Posey amassed 44.9 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, compiling a lifetime .302 batting average and an .831 OPS in nearly 5,000 at-bats.

Alvarez, meanwhile, played in parts of nine Big League seasons – six with the Pirates – and wound up with a career 5.0 WAR. He certainly had his moments wearing the Black and Gold; no one was complaining about him in 2013 when he smashed 36 homers and drove in 100 to help the Pirates reach the postseason for the first time since 1992. But his offensive numbers dipped the following year — he hit just 18 home runs and drove in 56 – and even an offensive rebound in 2015 couldn’t hide the fact that he was a defensive disaster no matter where he played in the field.

As a result, the Pirates chose not to offer him a contract for 2016, and he wound up signing with Baltimore for nearly $6 million. This past season, while Posey was adding to his legacy by leading the Giants to a 107-win season and winning the Sporting News National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, Alvarez was into his third year of retirement.

The point of this post isn’t to criticize Neal Huntington and his staff for choosing Alvarez over Posey. It’s simply to remind us that there are no sure things when it comes to prospects or the MLB draft. And even though the Pirates are fortunate to have yet another high pick in the 2022 draft, there’s no guarantee they’ll hit it big with the No. 4 pick.

A quick glance at the No. 4 picks in the past decade or so will make that clear. While it’s too early to tell for those taken in the last three or four years, the numbers from those selected No. 4 from 2013 through 2016 aren’t pretty.

Riley Pint, a right-handed pitcher chosen by the Rockies in 2016, has yet to appear in a Big League game, while Dillon Tate, a right-hander chosen by Texas but now pitching for Baltimore, appeared in 62 games – all in relief — in 2021. Kyle Schwarber was taken No. 4 in 2014 by the Cubs and has put together a fairly solid Major League career, with an average OPS of .836 in 2,205 at-bats. But right-hander Kohl Stewart, taken No. 4 by the Twins in 2013, has a career 0.2 WAR in 21 games, and Christian Colon, an infielder taken No. 4 in 2010, has a career 1.1 WAR and spent all of 2021 in the Minor Leagues.

None of those are numbers you’d like to see from the fourth pick in the draft. The outlier in the group is Kevin Gausman, who has turned his career around with the Giants the past two seasons, but for the most part, the list is lined with disappointments.

Let’s hope the Bucs’ pick at No. 4 next summer doesn’t become the next Riley Pint.