Pedro Alvarez has been fantastic for the Curve, not just living up to the lofty expectations but surpassing them in every way.
The third baseman entered Saturday's game batting .350.
Since a 3-for-25 start, he's hitting .400 in 37 games.
He's hitting .468 in 12 August games.
In his past five games prior to Saturday, he hit .650 (14-for-21).
This guy should not be in Double-A any longer.
The basics of arbitration
Speeding up the arbitration timetable is one big reason the Pirates may decide not to promote Pedro Alvarez to the major leagues this season or early next year. Arbitration rules are complex, so we'll try to simplify them here.
For a player to accumulate one year of major league service time, he must spend 172 days on a big league roster. When a player has three full years of service time, he is eligible for arbitration, and usually a big pay raise.
That's the easy stuff, though, and not really a big component of the pending decisions concerning Alvarez.
There's also something called a "Super 2" arbitration-eligible player. The Pirates may not want Alvarez to become one of these so they can avoid going to arbitration for an extra year.
A player can become "Super 2" eligible if:
n He has at least two years of MLB service time, and
n He accumulates at least 86 days of service time in the immediately preceding season, and
n His service time is in the top 17 percent of all players with at least two years but less than three years of service time.
How does all this pertain to Alvarez?
If the Pirates decide not to promote him to the majors until June of 2010, Alvarez will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season. The reason? Spending June through September in the majors likely would not give him enough service time to qualify for the top 17 percent of players eligible for "Super 2" designation.
However, if Alvarez were to become a "Super 2" player, he would be eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season. He could build toward that "Super 2" status if he accumulates a good bit of service time in September and early in the 2010 season.
It basically comes down to this: Do the Pirates want to be forced to give Alvarez his big payday in 2012 or 2013?
-- Cory Giger
The Pirates, however, do not appear to be in any rush to move their prized prospect up to Triple-A Indianapolis. And as for a potential September call-up to the major leagues? Well, the organization may consider it but don't count on one.
"We're not in a hurry to get him to Triple-A, we're not in a hurry to get him to the big leagues," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said this past week during a visit to Blair County Ballpark. "We think there are certain things that are learned at each level, and those things aren't learned in a short period of time sometimes."
Not usually, perhaps, but Alvarez is clearly an exception. He has pulverized the ball for more than a month, putting up the impressive batting average while belting nine homers with 28 RBIs.
"Part of the thought process in moving him here [from Single-A Lynchburg] was that he'd get pitches that were around the plate a lot more, he'd get more opportunities to swing the bat because they wouldn't be as intimidated and they'd challenge him," Huntington said. "And it's come to fruition.
"He still gets a little pull happy at times, still needs to use the whole field. And when he does with authority, he's a weapon."
Enough of a weapon to get a shot with the Pirates in September?
"To be determined whether he'll get the call-up or not," Huntington said.
If it were all about baseball, one would think the Buccos would promote Alvarez to Pittsburgh this year. He has earned it and would benefit from the experience.
It is not, however, all about baseball, despite what Huntington contends.
"It will be a baseball decision," the GM said.
As much as the Pirates may want fans to believe that, the truth is the business side of baseball will play a big part in the September call-up decision. Baseball's contract rules can be difficult to understand, and I have attempted to explain (see related item) how the arbitration process works with regards to Alvarez.
Huntington said the Pirates' thought process concerning a September call-up would go like this:
"For a guy in Pedro's case, it's playing time," he said. "It makes no sense to call a guy up if he's just going to sit on the bench and not play. There's a lot of other things we can do with that time from a development standpoint.
"There are two reasons a guy gets called up. One, he's a player that can help a manager win games. ... And the other is a young player that we're excited to see play. In Pedro's case, it would be the latter, and we need to make sure we need to get him playing time before he gets called up.
"As we sit here right now, Andy LaRoche is doing a nice job for us [at third base]. We want to continue to see him play and develop."
Huntington later added, "We're not fans of guys just getting to the big leagues because they get to the big leagues. We're fans of guys that earn their way, they fight through each level, they fight through adversity at times and then they go up."
All of that sounds like the Pirates will not be calling up Alvarez this year. It's also possible he won't even get a shot in Triple-A.
"He might finish the season here," Huntington said. "We haven't predetermined a time frame for when he would go to the next level. We're still working on some things on a nightly basis with him, and we're pleased with his overall development. But again, we're not in a hurry to get him to Triple-A."
The Pirates already have Neil Walker at third base in Indy, so that could play a part in their decision to keep Alvarez with the Curve. Huntington was asked about Alvarez's play at third and noted, "We've got some work to do."
"We've got some work to do on his footwork, we've got some work to do on his first step and his agility and his quickness and the reliability of the hands and the consistency of the arm," the GM said. "We believe with all of our hearts and all of our minds that he can be a third baseman. It's just a matter of getting the work done and making a play on a consistent basis."
Alvarez is keeping everything in stride and said he will not let the thought of any promotion affect his day-to-day approach.
He credits his success with the Curve to patience at the plate, focusing on hitting his pitch instead of a pitcher's pitch and sticking with a consistent approach.
"It would be a thrill," Alvarez said of getting to the big leagues this year. "I'm sure it would be an exhilarating experience. Obviously that's up to the ballclub and the people in the organization."
He went on to add, "I would obviously love and accept it with open arms. But if [it doesn't happen], I just know that I've got to keep working and just do the same thing I've been doing since day one, which is play hard and have fun."
Alvarez came to the Curve as the most hyped prospect in franchise history, and he has been a joy to watch. He looks like a future star, just as the Pirates hoped he'd be when they selected him with the No. 2 pick in last year's draft.
"I definitely have had a great time so far," Alvarez said of his time in Altoona.
Whenever that time comes to an end, Alvarez will be remembered as one of the best players in Curve history.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com. 0