Pedro Alvarez may have just figured it out.
He was supposed to be the future, the cornerstone of the Pittsburgh infield for years to come. The Pirates threw $6.4 million at him for that reason, and after the 2010 season it seemed like they had made the right call. Alvarez had rebounded from a slow start to hit .256 with 16 home runs (in only 347 AB’s). Sure the strikeout numbers were alarming, but they kid hit the ball HARD and you can deal with high K totals when a young player has the power potential that Alvarez had (has).
So Pedro came in to camp in 2011 seemingly ready to be the guy the Pirates drafted him to be – a franchise third baseman. Instead, Alvarez puked all over himself and played so poorly he was sent back down to the minors. Disheartening – to say the least – for a team with a history of perpetual failure like the Pirates.
Still, there was hope from within the organization (and this writer, who picked Alvarez as a sleeper) that the extensive work he was putting in with the hitting coaches instead of playing winter ball was going to pay off. But Alvarez had other plans, and started the season off 2-for-27 and struck out 13 times in his first 27 at-bats. It was the type of strike out ratio Willy Mo Pena could only dream of having.
But just when it seemed like all hope was lost and Pittsburgh had another disappointment on their hands, Alvarez woke up.
Over the last 10 games, Alvarez has four home runs, eight RBI and eight extra base hits. Don’t look at the strike out ratio – it’s screwed for the season already – and the walks will never be there, but the .525 slugging percentage is downright impressive for someone who was hitting .074 a couple weeks in to the season.
With a couple big name third basemen going down recently, Alvarez is worth a look, especially considering that he is facing six straight righties this week.
Santiago Casilla – After a little bit of a test period, Casilla will be Brian Wilson’s full-time replacement. He is 4-for-4 in save opportunities so far and his .92 WHIP suggests that while Casilla may not have the beard or terrible personality of Brian Wilson, he will be fine, just fine in the closer role going forward. Casilla is somehow still only owned in 58.45% of ESPN leagues, so go grab him if you can. Especially if – like me – you’ve had to watch Heath Bell huff and puff his way through blown save after blown save. I’d say the countdown to Ozzie Guillen “Ugie Urbina-ing” Bell has started.
Tony Campana – Think of him as Brett Gardner, with even less power (if that’s possible). But we are not here to focus on what this little spark plug can’t do – rather we are here to remark on the fact that in 10 games he has hit .370 with seven runs and seven stolen bases. The stolen base numbers that he is putting up are coming at a category-winning clip, and as long as he continues to get on base there is no reason to think that the stolen bases or the runs – which usually go hand in hand – will diminish. He’s still only owed in 11% of ESPN leagues, but don’t wait long on this kid or you’ll be sorry when he single-handedly gets more steals per week than your whole team.
Carlos Ruiz – Ol’ “Chooch” quietly goes about his business and produces year in and year out. The numbers are never gaudy – and he certainly doesn’t look like anyone you would want on your roster – but he is consistent. It would be his batting average that you would add him for, and when it comes to the catcher position that is never an easy thing to find. Also, a little known fact: Carlos Ruiz has received MVP votes in each of the past two seasons. Welcome to the new Extra Pine Tar, where you really can learn something new every day.
A.J. Burnett - Could it be? Could A.J. Burnett actually put it together for a whole season? We are going to have to wait and see on that, but so far Burnett has pitched very well since returning from bunting the ball off his own face. Always a source of frustration for anyone who watches him do anything, Burnett could be able to put his Yankees era behind him in Pittsburgh. The problem – as always – is that the Pirates need to score runs. If they can get their pitchers the support they need then the Pirates could have two reclamation projects succeeding at the front of their rotation in Burnett and Erik Bedard.
Doug Fister - The Tigers have officially set May 7 as Fister’s return to the rotation. So, barring any setbacks during his rehab assignment, it would appear that Fister will be ready to return to the form that made him one of the best No. 2 pitchers in the AL last season.
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