By Cliff Corcoran
February 16, 2012
The Big Question: Is Pedro Alvarez still a future star?
A year ago, Alvarez was coming off the big September surge that capped his rookie season, and was ripe with all of the promise one might expect from a slugger who was the second-overall pick in the 2008 draft and a top 10 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2010 season.
In 2011, however, Alvarez didn't hit at all. He was batting .208/.283/.304 with just two home runs when a quadriceps injury shelved him for two months, and he was even worse after he returned, hitting just .173/.260/.273 with two more taters over his final 124 plate appearances, which surrounded a brief late-August demotion.
There was no silver-lining to that performance. Alvarez didn't just struggle, he was the 10th-worst hitter in baseball out of the 306 with 250 or more plate appearances last year, posting a 56 OPS+ (100 is average) that matched Adam Dunn's mark in his disastrous debut season with the White Sox. Alvarez is now 25 and a career .230/.304/.392 hitter in the major leagues. This is a player who was supposed to be a pillar of the Pirates rebuilding, a player many ranked ahead of Andrew McCutchen as a prospect. One has to wonder if that potential is still there, or, if not, how much of it remains.
The Big Battle: Leftfield
After making the All-Star team and winning an (undeserved) Gold Glove as the Pirates centerfielder in 2008, Nate McLouth was traded to the Braves in 2009 and hit just .229/.335/.364 in parts of three seasons with Atlanta. The Pirates brought McLouth back on a one-year deal this winter, and he'll likely challenge Alex Presley for the leftfield job this spring, though the 26-year-old Presley should prove victorious.
The Big Prospect: Gerrit Cole
The top pick in the 2011 draft is just one of three Pirates prospects, along with fellow righties Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia, who could grow up to be legitimate major league aces. However, Cole, who made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League after signing with the Pirates, is the only one of the three who will be in major league camp this spring.
A solid 6-foot-4, the 21-year-old Cole can hit triple-digits on the radar gun, compliments that heat with a wicked slider and above-average changeup and expects to be on the fast track to the major leagues, starting with a full-season assignment in April.
Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/cliff_corcoran/02/16/spring.training.preview.nl.central/index.html#ixzz1mjkdWLkZ
Photo: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette