PITTSBURGH -- He was named the organization's top Minor League player at the end of last season. His name graced the top of Baseball America's top Pirates prospect list heading into 2010. And so it should come as little surprise that third baseman Pedro Alvarez has now landed among baseball's best prospects.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo revealed his list Top 50 Prospects on MLB Network on Wednesday night and had Alvarez ranked as No. 8. Atlanta's Jason Heyward claimed the top spot. No other Pirates Minor League players made the cut.
This could be the last year that Alvarez, 22, finds himself as one of baseball's most intriguing Minor League players. It's widely anticipated that the former Vanderbilt University standout will be in Pittsburgh before season's end, possibly even in advance of the All-Star break.
Though contentious signing bonus negotiations prevented Alvarez from playing in 2008 after being the No. 2 overall pick in that summer's First-Year Player Draft, the third baseman made quite a statement in the Minors last season. A slow start with high Class A Lynchburg (Va.) explains his .247 batting average in 66 games. Still, Alvarez hit 14 homers and drove in 55 runs during that Minor League stop.
Alvarez was then promoted to Double-A Altoona, where he thrived. He hit .333 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 60 games. His season culminated with an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Cup.
Alvarez, who is projected to begin the 2010 season in Triple-A Indianapolis, has spent the offseason training at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona. There, Alvarez has focused on strength, conditioning and nutrition with the hope that he can enter Spring Training in peak shape. It's his conditioning level that will ultimately determine whether Alvarez will be able to stay at third long term.
"Pedro dominated Double-A at times, and we'll see where he is physically coming into next spring," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He has worked hard to get back into third-base-type condition, and he's done a nice job with that. It will ultimately depend on the body. He has the feet. He has the hands. He has the arm. He has the athleticism to play third. Does he physically give himself a chance to stay there? As we sit here today, the answer is yes. He's worked hard."
So what's left for Alvarez to accomplish outside of conditioning? Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development, cited three additional goals for the third baseman: better defensive consistency, better results against left-handed pitching and maintaining a consistent approach offensively.
It may seem like Pirates management is nitpicking when it comes to Alvarez's development. And to a degree, that's true. But it's also been years since the organization has had a prospect with Alvarez's potential.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.