Alvarez excited to play in Futures Game

By Jonathan Mayo
Updated: July 7, 2009

ALTOONA, Pa. — Nothing Pedro Alvarez does happens quietly. It was a big deal when the Pirates drafted him a year ago; it became even bigger news when they eventually signed him.

Every move of his impressive first Spring Training was watched carefully. His pro debut in Lynchburg, Va., back in April, received plenty of attention. When he was promoted to Double-A about a week ago, all heck broke loose, at least in the greater Pittsburgh area.

So it stood to reason that when “the franchise” was named to play in the XM All-Star Futures Game in St. Louis on Sunday, it came with the corresponding fanfare and buzz.

“I had no idea,” said Alvarez, killing that idea. “We were in Erie and it was a fan who told me after the game.”

It may have been the first under-the-radar thing that’s happened to Alvarez in his brief career, but there’s nothing small about the honor.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft could not contain how happy he was to be headed to the Futures Game.

“I was thrilled, honored, privileged to be considered one of the top players in the Minor Leagues,” Alvarez said. “You see the game every year on TV and you wish that you could play there and now I’m getting the opportunity. It’s very exciting.”

The 11th annual Futures Game, pitting the best Minor League prospects from the United States against the best from the rest of the world, will be held at Busch Stadium on All-Star Sunday, at 2 p.m. ET. will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game, which can be seen live on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on Gameday.

Alvarez recently missed four games because of a minor knee injury. But he is back in the lineup and will ready for St. Louis. The injury forced him out before he got the opportunity to settle in with his new team, though.

The third baseman went 3-for-25 in his first seven games prior to the injury, though he did hit homers in back-to-back games on June 24-25 to bring his season total to 16. He leads the organization in that category as well as in RBIs (61).

Prior to his injury, Alvarez was in the top 10 in RBIs among all Minor Leaguers.

Those numbers are important to point out to those who might wonder why Alvarez was promoted while hitting .247 with Class A Lynchburg and why he was named to the Futures Game, which is more about potential than present performance. Alvarez got off to a horrendous start in the Carolina League, hitting .219 with a .738 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 73 at-bats.

Alvarez understood right away the expectations the fans would have of him, but they couldn’t be higher than what he placed on himself. That’s likely why he began the year trying to work his way up to Pittsburgh with every swing.

He settled down to hit 10 homers and drive in 35 runs over 45 games in May and June before the promotion. Now up a level, following a huge conference call and press attention, he’s doing it all over again.

“The man had a 10-month layoff and we’re trying to get him back up to speed,” Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. “I think he kicked the rust off. I do believe he’s ready for this level.”

“Just like when he started the year, he’s saying, ‘I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and I have to impress everybody.’ No, you have to do what you were doing the last month of the season in Lynchburg.”

“It’s more about him taking a step back and doing what he does, as opposed to trying to do more. The last month, he stayed within himself, didn’t try to do too much, didn’t chase as much and we felt he was ready for this challenge.”

He should be ready for what awaits him in St. Louis as well. Playing in the SEC and for Team USA, he’s been on some big stages before. He’ll be reunited with USA Baseball teammates Brian Matusz, Danny Espinosa and Brett Wallace on the U.S. Team.

Nothing really compares to what Busch Stadium will be like — Alvarez said the biggest crowd he’s played in front of was in the 10,000-11,000 range — but he did get to see what the All-Star craziness was about in his hometown last year.

“I got to go to the All-Star Game in New York last summer,” said Alvarez, who attended Horace Mann High School in the Bronx before heading to Vanderbilt.

“That was pretty cool, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to be on the field. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll get to meet [U.S. manager] Ozzie Smith — that will be unreal.

I’m excited to see what the atmosphere is like.”

The game will likely bring more national attention to Alvarez, but he’s grown accustomed to it to an extent. And while he likely is the type who will press a little each time he moves up, Pirates fans should take comfort that he appears to be someone who lives for that pressure, rather than shrinking from it.

“As we add more players to the system, it won’t be as big of a deal, so Pedro can relax,” said Stark, referring specifically to the media frenzy when he was promoted to Double-A Altoona. “But part of it is just the way Pedro is wired. He expects big things and he’s going out and trying to do those things.”

That might mean he’ll try to go out and do something big in St. Louis.

Maybe he’ll press too much, then come back to Altoona and settle in to the Eastern League and continue his ascent up a system that wants to see him succeed sooner rather than later. Either way, don’t expect him to rest on the laurels of the Futures Game achievement.

“It’s definitely nice,” Alvarez said. “By no means is it the end of the season or am I complacent. I still have a lot to accomplish. But to be able to put that under my belt and say I was a part of that, it definitely, for personal satisfaction, it’s a big boost. It doesn’t look bad on a resume.

“I know the people of Pittsburgh are very excited and hopefully, I can deal with that in due time. Right now, I know the people here in Altoona are excited to have me. I’m thrilled to be here and I want to show these people what I can do, what I can bring to the table.”

In the end, Stark thinks going to St. Louis will help Alvarez do just that, settle in and show Altoona Curve fans just what he’s capable of doing on the field.

“It may get people to stop asking why he got promoted when he was hitting .247 in Lynchburg,” Stark joked. “It is something to say to Pedro, ‘By your standards, you didn’t have a good first half, and you’ve been recognized.”

“You got a promotion, you were recognized to go to the Futures Game. Obviously, it’s an honor. So relax and trust yourself.’ In the end, I think it’s going to help.”