The consensus -- from those inside the organization and from experts outside -- is that the Pirates did just that when they used the No. 2 overall selection to select Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
"Pedro is a player we've done a lot of work on," Huntington said shortly after the selection. "It's our belief that he has the potential of being a middle-of-the-lineup-type bat with the added potential of being a left-handed hitter at PNC Park. It's our belief that he will be a quality Major League third baseman."
The Rays made Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham the top overall pick of the '08 Draft with the preceding selection.
In the days leading up to Thursday's selection, it became fairly certain that that the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Alvarez would ultimately be atop the team's Draft board, despite Alvarez's injury-plagued junior season and his reportedly high bonus demands.
Pirates' top five selections
|2.||3B||Pedro Alvarez||Vanderbilt U|
|48.||RHP||Tanner Scheppers||Fresno St U|
|79.||SS||Jordy Mercer||Oklahoma St U|
|114.||SS||Chase D'Arnaud||Pepperdine U|
|144.||LHP||Justin Wilson||Fresno St U|
|Complete Pirates Draft results >|
Alvarez was consistently mentioned among the top three players available even though he missed 23 of his team's first 24 games this season. He broke the hamate bone in his right hand in Vanderbilt's season-opening game against Oregon State.
He rebounded to play the final 40 games of the Commodores' season and hit .317 with 15 doubles, nine homers and 30 RBIs. While still respectable season-ending totals, Alvarez's power numbers in 2008 were much lower than in his previous two collegiate seasons -- a direct result of that early season injury.
"Once I came back, I was 100 percent," Alvarez said by phone from his parent's apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. "I didn't work out when I was hurt, so naturally you lose some strength. But that's gainable again."
Alvarez had the hamate bone removed early this spring. And after exhaustive research on this type of injury, Pirates management came to the same conclusion -- that Alvarez should not suffer any long-term, lingering effects from the injury.
"The hamate bone, if diagnosed correctly, if taken out correctly, if rehabbed correctly -- he'll have no problems with it going forward," Huntington said. "And it is our belief that everything was handled properly."
With the injury apparently of no concern, the biggest issue for Pirates management now becomes signing Alvarez before the Aug. 15 deadline. Alvarez is advised by agent Scott Boras, and if the two sides are not able to come to an agreement before that August date, then Alvarez will go back into the Draft pool next year and the Pirates will be award a compensatory pick in next year's Draft.
Reports have emerged that Alvarez's demands will include a signing bonus of at least $7 million, and possibly a Major League contract, though Alvarez would not speak on the subject while answering questions from the Pittsburgh media Thursday afternoon.
"I can't even think about that right now," he said. "I need to sit down with my parents and my evaluators and talk about that later. Right now I'm just trying to take everything in."
Those type of financial expectations would fall well above the "slot" figure, which is an amount that Major League Baseball suggests for each pick. To further put Alvarez's supposed demands in perspective, Mike Moustakas was given a $4 million bonus when Kansas City selected him No. 2 overall last season.
While Pirates management expects the negotiations to be long and hard, Huntington suggested that the organization's leverage comes from trying to convince Alvarez that it is in his best interest to sign this summer so that his track to the Majors will be expedited.
"It's our belief that Pedro wants to be a Major League Baseball player and realizes that [Washington's] Ryan Zimmerman, [Milwaukee's] Ryan Braun, [Colorado's] Troy Tulowitzki and [Tampa Bay's] Evan Longoria before him, they've gotten out in that first summer and gotten to the big leagues within 24 months," Huntington said. "Will that happen in this case? I don't know. But there's certainly a good track record there."
And concerning the possibility of demands of a Major League contract, Huntington said: "A Major League contract, in the right situation, isn't a huge issue. In the wrong situation, it's a mistake."
Asked if it he felt getting on the field early in the summer was critical, Alvarez again didn't give a direct answer.
"Again, this is the first step of a long process, and that will be taken care of when it comes," said Alvarez, who combined to hit .357 with 40 home runs and 132 RBIs in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. "It's going to be a team thing when I sit down with my family and my advisor to talk about it. "
Thursday marked the second time the now 20-year-old has been drafted. Three years ago, he was a 14th-round selection by the Red Sox, who offered him nearly $1 million to forgo college. Alvarez declined, opting to attend Vanderbilt instead.
Alvarez's stock began rising immediately after the '05 Draft, following his breakout freshman season at Vanderbilt. He was named Baseball America's Freshman of the Year before picking up All-American and All-South Eastern Conference honors a year later.
"He's got a nice stroke," said Pirates scouting director Greg Smith. "The ball came off the bat very well. We think he's an advanced college hitter."
Alvarez also made a splash playing for Team USA. He combined to hit 12 home runs and 73 RBIs in two summers with the national team. He hit .379 and .315, respectively.
Heading into the Draft, however, some scouts appeared hesitant to label Alvarez as a potential Major League third baseman, suggesting that a position change to first base may be the best decision moving forward. Alvarez made 10 errors in 40 games this season.
The Pirates, though, don't seem to share those concerns, pointing to Alvarez's soft hands, athletic feet and arm as more than adequate to play the position at the big league level.
"We feel Pedro has all the attributes to be a good third baseman at the Major League level," Huntington said. "And, most importantly, he has the desire to be a good Major League third baseman."
Alvarez added that he was "very confident" that he can be a Major League third baseman.
The selection of Alvarez marks just the third time in the last 11 seasons that the Pirates have taken a position player with their first-round pick. The last time the Pirates used their first pick to select a third baseman was in 1986, when they made Jeff King the No. 1 overall pick.
Prior to choosing Alvarez, the Pirates selected catcher James Tillman in a special Draft to honor Negro League players who were excluded from playing Major League Baseball. Tillman played for the Homestead Grays, who played in both Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., from 1941-43.
A look at the Pirates' other Day 1 Draft picks:
Second Round (No. 48 overall): Tanner Scheppers
Scheppers, a right-hander out of Fresno State University, was projected to be a potential top-10 pick until mid-May, when he was sidelined with a stress fracture in his right shoulder, an injury that still has him sidelined. What's interesting here is that getting a stress fracture in a shoulder from pitching is unheard of, which still has some scouts wondering if Scheppers' injury could be something more.
However, if Scheppers can overcome the injury with no lingering effects, the Pirates will likely have a steal here with a power right-handed arm. The college junior has a mid- to high-90s mph fastball and a wicked slider that he will throw to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He was converted from a shortstop to a pitcher just three years ago, giving him big upside as he continues to develop, especially if he is able to improve his changeup and/or curveball. Baseball America profiled the 6-foot-4, 195-pound righty as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.
Third Round (No. 79 overall): Jordy Mercer
The Oklahoma State shortstop, who also doubles as a reliever, has been pegged by scouts to have the makeup to stay at the middle infield position and to play above-average defensively at short. Additionally, his offensive potential isn't scant. He hit .330 for the Cowboys during his junior season with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs. After serving as the team's closer last season, Mercer appeared in 16 games as a reliever in 2008 as well.
Fourth Round (No. 114 overall) Chase D'Arnaud
A junior infielder out of Pepperdine, D'Arnaud finished the season with a .314 average, 11 homers and 50 RBIs. D'Arnaud became the biggest threat in Pepperdine's lineup at the end of the season when teammate Eric Thames went down with an injury. Though D'Arnaud is scouted more for his bat than his defense, he has played both at third and at short in college. D'Arnaud, whose brother, Travis, is a catcher in the Phillies' system, hit .331 during his sophomore season.
Fifth Round (No. 144 overall) Justin Wilson
Wilson became the second pitcher -- and the second Fresno State arm -- chosen by the Pirates on Thursday. The left-hander likely benefited from the Pirates' scouts following Scheppers throughout the collegiate season. While scouting Scheppers, the Pirates found a left-handed arm in the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Wilson who was projected as a fifth-round pick. Wilson went 7-4 with a 4.17 ERA in 19 appearances (15 starts) for the Bulldogs this season. He struck out 83 in 99 1/3 innings, though he also walked a staff-high 53.
Sixth Round (No. 174 overall) Robert Grossman
Grossman, a center fielder out of Cypress-Fairbanks High School (Texas), was the only high school player drafted by the organization on Day 1. The 18-year-old outfielder impresses with his speed and with his aggressiveness on the bases. He's also another left-handed hitter for the Pirates. Scouts have identified some needed tweaks in his approach at the plate, but they will have plenty of time to develop Grossman, whose grittiness has been compared to that of Lenny Dykstra.