Prior to the start of the 2009 season, the Pirates publicly expressed disappointment in the way Alvarez reported to mini-camp. He was heavier than his target weight, which left the Bucs wondering how dedicated Alvarez had been in taking care of his body during his contentious post-Draft negotiations the previous summer.
A year later, Alvarez spent 12 weeks of his offseason living at the Arizona-based Athletes' Performance Institute. There, the first-round Draft pick engaged in strength, conditioning and weightlifting programs. He followed a strict dietary routine and sat through nutrition seminars. The results were encouraging, as Alvarez decreased his body-fat ratio and showed up to Spring Training much fitter.
Alvarez did not return to API this winter. However, that's not to say that his offseason workout program isn't once again being carefully tracked by the organization.
"He knows what he needs to accomplish this offseason, and we're going to be in close contact with him -- probably much more than he would like," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But that's the nature of where we are right now."
Alvarez's body composition remains a critical factor in whether he'll be able to stick at third base. So far, that determination has been made on a year-to-year basis, with nothing set in stone for the long term.
It's in the organization's best interest to keep Alvarez at third as long as it can. But the Pirates have to ensure that doing so doesn't compromise the defense behind the pitching staff. To that point, the results were mixed in Alvarez's first taste of the big leagues in 2010.
"Defensively, we've seen a lot of the issues that we saw [in the Minors]," Huntington said. "He's very capable of making a great play. He's got the arm strength. He's got the hands. He's got the ability to play third base.
"It's a matter of the consistent pitch-to-pitch focus and ultimately physical. Does he put himself in position to be able to play the game defensively every single day? And what is the appropriate body composition for him to be able to stay at third base?"
Alvarez committed 17 errors in 276 chances with the Pirates last season. His -6.2 ultimate zone rating (a measure of how many runs above or below average a player allows) ranked 11th out of the 13 National League third basemen who played in the field for at least 800 innings.
A move to first base would make the most sense for Alvarez, if the Pirates ultimately decide that he is not the long-term answer across the diamond. For now, though, the expectation is that Alvarez will put in the necessary work this offseason to ensure that he can stick at third for the time being.