"They both showed some things to really be excited about this spring, but both also showed that there is some development left," general manager Neal Huntington said, shortly after informing both of the club's decision. "In both cases, [we're] really excited about their development and they'll show us how quickly they're ready to go."
Huntington also clarified that, in a perfect world, the organization would have kept Alvarez and Tabata in big league camp a while longer. Rather, it was a roster-status rule that forced the Pirates to send the pair out with two weeks left in Spring Training.
Friday is the last day that a team can option a player who is on the 40-man roster who didn't play in the Majors last year and is hurt. Neither Alvarez, nor Tabata, are injured, of course, but if they were to stay in Major League camp and get hurt, they would then gain a full year of Major League service time. It's an unlikely occurrence, sure, but a risk the Pirates didn't want to take.
"This forces us to make a move out of defensive measures, which isn't something we like to do," Huntington said.
Alvarez, 23, and Tabata, 21, will headline an Indianapolis club that will also feature top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln at the beginning of the season. Though there are still questions about whether Alvarez can stick at third base long-term, he'll continue his defensive work there for now.
2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
How Alvarez matures defensively will be key in helping management decide when the former Vanderbilt standout is ready to make the step up to the Majors. The Pirates would also like to see Alvarez hone in on his approach against left-handed pitchers. He has already shown the ability to be dangerous against righties, and the goal is to make him even more complete of a hitter.
"I feel very confident in my ability to play this game and play it at this level," Alvarez said, just before leaving the McKechnie Field clubhouse on Friday morning. "Obviously the management has been around longer than I have and they're the best judges on when they think I'm ready.
"You come into spring trying to make the squad," he added. "That was my goal. It just so happened that it wasn't the time for that. I've just got to go down there and get ready and keep getting better."
Because all of Pittsburgh is anticipating Alvarez's arrival, it's easy to forget that he has just one year of Minor League playing time under his belt. Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, split last season between high-A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona and finished with a .288 average, 27 homers and 95 RBIs.
He was named the organization's top Minor League player at the end of the season. MLB.com ranked him as baseball's eighth-best prospect heading into 2010.
Alvarez went 8-for-27 this spring with two doubles, two triples and four RBIs. By comparison, Alvarez had just 18 at-bats last spring.
"Not that I ever lacked confidence, but it gave me more confidence that they wanted to give me more of a chance," Alvarez said of the increased spring playing time. "It gives you a taste of the game. It slows down the game a little bit for me when I do get the opportunity.
"I just have to keep working hard at it. I have every bit of confidence that I can play at this level."
Tabata is returning to Indianapolis after finishing the 2009 season there. He hit .276 in 32 Triple-A games after batting .303 in 61 games with Altoona. This spring, Tabata went 7-for-28 with two doubles and one RBI.
"It's been very good," Tabata said of his time in Major League camp. "I'm happy. I feel good with my body. I'm trying every day and [I'm] ready to see what happens."
According to Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development, Tabata will see time at all three outfield spots with Indianapolis. He's a natural center fielder, but with Andrew McCutchen entrenched there in Pittsburgh, Tabata is expected to shift to a corner outfield spot when he makes it to the Majors.
Pitch-to-pitch consistency at the plate and continued maturation are the two primary goals the Pirates have cited for Tabata as he begins his sixth season in the Minors.
With Friday's moves, the Pirates now have 45 players remaining in big league camp.