2012 Expectations: 3rd Base
Pedro Alvarez: Here it is the key to any success the Pirates may or may not have in 2012. The team as constituted has several holes but none are more apparent than the lack of a true cleanup hitter. The Pirates have little chance of finding such a player externally and their internal options are extremely limited. The only such player who exists in the system is one Pedro Alvarez. After a strong rookie campaign Alvarez posted an abysmal 2011 and right now no one really knows what to expect from Alvarez in 2012. He could bust or he could break out. The guess here as is often the case is that it will be somewhere in between. I foresee a slight improvement of his rookie numbers but not the 30 homer year he is certainly capable of. My prediction for him is 23 HR and a line of .250/.330/.480.
Casey McGehee: I have already covered McGehee at 1st base because that is where he will end up getting most of his playing time but he was also bought in to be the backup plan for Alvarez. The hope is that with the occasional exception of a spot start or maybe facing some tough lefties (with Nick Evans at 1st) that there will be little need for McGehee to appear at 3rd base. However if the need arises I expect him to perform better than the Harrison/Wood duo of last season.
Josh Harrison: Harrison will be given a chance to win a major league bench job but due to his lack of experience at SS will probably only stick if the Pirates decide to carry an extra infielder at the expense of a 5th outfielder. I expect him to start the season in AAA but with d’Arnaud, Mercer and Navarro all ticketed for AAA there may not be room for him to get regular starts in the infield. The Pirates could try to get him time in the OF but unless Lambo is held back in AA that does not seem too likely. Harrison will probably be needed to fill in sometime in the majors and when he does he should be rather serviceable.
Yamaico Navarro: Acquired this offseason for Brooks Pounders Navarro immediately vaults to the top of the Pirates 3rd base prospect rankings. This is more proof of how sad the state of the Pirates 3rd base prospects is than it is praise for him as a prospect. Navarro is a decent prospect and will be given a chance to win a job in the majors but if he doesn’t he will play in AAA. Like Harrison the crowded infield could force him into the outfield but once again the outfield appears pretty full. Navarro is likely to get a chance at some point this year and with more experience at SS than Harrison he could even be the first infielder in line for a call up. Being a new guy in the system I really do not know what to expect from Navarro but my guess here is that he will be in the Harrison mold and will be capabale of being a decent bench guy. His defensive skills and strike zone awareness will make him a slightly better option than Harrison though.
Elevys Gonzalez: Gonnzalez has hit well at every level but lacks the power to be a legit 3rd base prospect. His bat would play well in the middle infield but his defense there is suspect at best. He should start the season in AA but with Farrell possibly repeating the level he may slide over to 2nd to begin the season (assuming Cunningham isn’t promoted). There is no reason to believe he will not continue to hit at a decent clip but on the flip side there is little reason to believe his power and/or defense will improve. Essentially what we have in Gonzalez is another utility type player in a similar mold to Harrison and Navarro.
Eric Avila: Avila was the Pirates best 3rd base prospect headed into the 2011 season but he struggled mightily in A ball. In fact his struggles were so bad that me listing him as the Pirates 3rd best third base prospect is probably on the optimistic side. He displayed some power in the GCL the previous season but that all but evaporated last season. On the plus side he did make strides on his defensive game. Avila will likely repeat A ball this season and while it would be surprising to see him not improve on his numbers from last year, he will have to have a huge season to get back into the legit prospect status.
Summary: Third base is probably the Pirates weakest position from a prospect standpoint so that makes it even more important that Pedro Alvarez succeeds. Looking at the talent the Pirates have down on the farm and ignoring the possibility of McGehee returning to 2009-10 form the only chance the Pirates have to get good production from 3rd base this year or in the immediate future is Pedro Alvarez. I hate to put so much on one player’s shoulders but in reality it’s the case. The production the Pirates get from third base this season is going to have a major impact on whether this club has a shot break the streak and in the end that all comes down to Alvarez. Don’t let us down Pedro, we are rooting for you.