Despite injury, Alvarez still a top choice

Despite injury, Alvarez still a top choice

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- John Merritt, a football coaching legend at Nashville's Tennessee State University during the 1960s and '70s, was fond of saying "the hay's in the barn" before sending his team onto the field on fall Saturdays.

Across town 30 years later, Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez can relate.

The junior third baseman was idled during the opening weeks of the season after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand during the Commodores' season opener against Oregon State and missed 23 of the team's first 24 games.

Expected to be an early -- if not the first -- pick in next month's First-Year Player Draft, his injury has impacted his numbers.

However, it shouldn't impact his chances, according to Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin.

"The body of work over the last two years is apparent," Corbin said of Alvarez, who earned National Freshman of the Year honors following the 2006 season, All-Southeastern Conference and All-America honors after last season, and came into the current campaign with 40 career home runs, 132 RBIs and a .359 career batting average.

Playing for Team USA the past two summers, Alvarez hit .379 following his freshman year and .315 last year, with a combined 12 homers and 73 RBIs.

"His work and what he's done speaks for itself," Corbin said. "He's handled the wood bat as well as anybody in the country.

"I think people had their mind made up on what he is."

While his power numbers have been slow to return -- due less to any remaining physical effects of his injury than to regaining his timing at the plate -- Corbin expects that people paid to evaluate those types of situations will do so accurately.

"Most baseball people would understand it takes time to come back from that, not so much the pain and soreness but the timing," he said. "He was out for quite some time. His spring practice is probably still happening."

With the bone surgically removed, there's no possibility of a recurrence of the injury.

Despite the injury, Alvarez has still shown himself to be a dangerous factor in the Vanderbilt batting order. He's hitting .294 with three home runs and 15 RBIs, with nine doubles as well.

With continued repetitions at the plate, he thinks it's just a matter of time before he returns to his slugging form of the past two years.

"I don't think the power's gone," Alvarez said. "I'm hitting the ball out in [batting practice]. It's obviously a little different with live pitching, but it's just a matter of comfort. Once I feel more comfortable at the plate, I'll be able to get back in the swing of things soon. I'm not too worried about that.

"It'll come."

As hard as it will be to gauge the concern Major League clubs may have with Alvarez's hand injury, measuring their reactions to his being advised by Scott Boras will be equally challenging.

"I don't think that'll affect [his draft status] one way or the other," Corbin said. "I think teams now are well aware of the negotiations that go into effect when they deal with [Boras]. The teams that want to jump in will; the teams that don't, won't.

"Pedro's a good player; there are teams that like him and I think he'll get treated accordingly."

Of late, questions have arisen as to a defensive position once Alvarez does turn pro -- and more pointedly, whether he can handle third base at the next level.

"His defense, in my opinion, is as good as it gets for third basemen in this league -- in this country," Corbin said. "I don't see everybody, but he's a good athlete over there -- he's got good dexterity in his hips, he moves around well, he's very explosive, he's got a very good arm and he's very athletic. I've always told people on the other side, the professional people, that this guy's not a position-change guy. He may be when he's 40 years old, but not in his 20s.

"He's a very good defensive player."

The Boston Red Sox's 14th-round selection in the 2005 Draft, Alvarez has obviously improved his draft status. As expected, however, he's downplaying that status and what -- if anything -- may affect it, preferring to focus on Vanderbilt's regular-season stretch run and ensuing postseason play.

"I have no idea where I'm going to end up; I'm not worried about that," he said, acknowledging the possibility that he could be the second straight Commodore to go No. 1 overall. Tampa Bay, which took Vanderbilt lefty David Price to open last year's Draft, has the top pick for the second straight year.

"It's definitely an honor to be considered as the No. 1 prospect in the nation," Alvarez said. "But I'm a big believer in fate. Whatever happens is supposed to happen. I'm not at all worried about that."

If it plays out that way, the occurrence would be as big a feather in Vanderbilt's cap as it would be in Alvarez's.

"It just speaks to the kids we're attracting and developing," Corbin said. "Price [the Dodgers' 19th-round pick in 2004] and Alvarez are two kids that could have foregone college ball. They chose to be patient and come here, and they've developed; they haven't gone backward. I think that's a testament to them and to the coaches that work with them.

"We're just fortunate we attracted two great players that got better in the process."

Maurice Patton is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.