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Bucs' top prospects struggling on farm

Bucs' top prospects struggling on farm

PITTSBURGH -- The Minor League season began with lofty expectations for the Pirates' "big three" -- Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata -- and for obvious reasons. However, one month into the Minor League season, each of the three has run into his share of adversity.

Jose Tabata suffered a right hamstring strain last week and will sit for about another month. Before the injury, Tabata hit .250 with six RBIs in 17 games for Double-A Altoona.

Tabata was expected to move up to Triple-A later this season once there was an opening for him in center field, and that will likely still be the case, despite this setback. However, the extended absence may affect Tabata's readiness to make his Major League debut this year, which hadn't been out of the question.

One level below Tabata, in Class A Lynchburg, third baseman Pedro Alvarez has gotten off to a slow start after a dazzling debut (3-for-4, four RBIs) in his first Minor League game. Alvarez entered the Hillcats' game on Monday with just a .212 average. He does have 21 RBIs in 24 games, though, and has gone deep five times.

Alvarez's struggles can be partly explained by the lack of good pitches that he's seeing, general manager Neal Huntington said.

"He's not getting pitches to hit," Huntington said. "They know he's Pedro Alvarez, and they're pitching around him."

Consequently, when Alvarez does see a pitch he likes, he's often overzealous, trying to do too much.

Furthermore, he is still adjusting from the collegiate baseball schedule to the professional one, where he's now playing every day. Because of his drawn-out negotiations last summer, Alvarez didn't get a chance to start his professional career until this spring.

"We anticipated that there were going to be some growing pains," Huntington said. "We'd much rather have this first adversity down there than up here in the Major Leagues."

McCutchen, of course, is the closest to Pittsburgh. He's seen as a likely candidate for a midseason callup, assuming that he can reach a few more development goals. Much like Alvarez, though, the Pirates have seen a tendency from McCutchen to try to do too much at the plate during the first month of the Triple-A season.

"They're trying to hit eight-run homers," Huntington said. "They're trying to get 10 hits. And they press rather than just relaxing and letting [their] natural abilities come through."

McCutchen has hit .261 with five doubles, five triples and six RBIs in the Indians' first 21 games. He has just one homer, but is 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts.

On a positive note, Huntington noted that McCutchen's defense in center continues to be superb, as it was during Spring Training. McCutchen has also been successful in incorporating bunting into his game more often this year and is choosing better spots to steal a base.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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