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A vote for Pedro: Alvarez brings undeniable star potential to Altoona
June 23, 2009

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There is no such thing as a can't-miss prospect in baseball, something we have been reminded of far too often during the Curve's 11 seasons.

The list of young stars who faded before our eyes, never achieving much of anything in the major leagues, is long. Very long.

To name a few: J.R. House. Bryan Bullington. Brad Eldred. Jose Castillo. Chris Duffy. John Van Benschoten. J.J. Davis. Bobby Bradley. Tom Gorzelanny. Chris Shelton. Ian Snell. Rico Washington. Neil Walker. And last but certainly not least, Kevin Haverbusch.

It's tough not to think of those once-heralded players - and their disappointing careers (so far) - every time the next young, pre-destined star makes his way to Double-A.

This time, hopefully things will be different.

This time, baseball scouts unanimously agree, will be different.

It's Pedro Alvarez time.

This guy is a legit future star.

This guy is a legit franchise player.

This guy is a legit can't-miss prospect.

Or so everyone says of last year's No. 2 overall draft pick.

Now we'll get to see first hand in Altoona if it's true.

"I'm excited the people of Pittsburgh are excited," Alvarez said during a press conference Monday at Blair County Ballpark.

Alvarez, promoted to Altoona from Single-A Lynchburg late Sunday night, is so special he's just the second Curve player ever to get his own press conference. House had one on June 20, 2001 to announce he was sticking with baseball instead of playing college football.

"It's definitely for me an honor and a privilege to be, I guess, anticipated in such a way and liked in such a way," Alvarez said of the attention from the local media and Pittsburgh press.

The big question now is whether Alvarez, a 22-year-old third baseman, can live up to all this hype. House never did, with the Bucs' former No. 1 prospect fizzling out and appearing in just 32 major league games.

A number of things make Alvarez seem worthy of all the attention - not to mention the $6 million signing bonus he received - and they include maturity, baseball IQ and coachability.

But the swing is the thing.

Alvarez's sweet left-handed swing is capable of producing a lot of home runs, as well as a good batting average. He didn't have the latter at Lynchburg, batting just .247, but he punished the ball with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 66 games.

Alvarez will make his Curve debut in a hitter's paradise tonight at Erie's tiny Jerry Uht Park, which measures 328 feet down the right-field line. The prospect of him someday crushing balls over PNC Park's short porch in right field (320 feet) generates much-needed excitement for a franchise in the midst of its 17th consecutive losing season.

One issue Alvarez faced at Lynchburg was not getting much to hit because pitchers worked around him.

"I definitely had to be very patient," he said. "I got a lot of 3-0 sliders, 3-1 curveballs, 0-0 changeups, and never at any given moment [was it] a fastball count. So I had to really bear down and just be patient at the plate."

Alvarez has spent this season getting acclimated to professional baseball and all that comes with that, both on and off the field. His biggest challenge moving up to Double-A will be getting acclimated to better, older, more polished pitchers.

"I know it's going to be tough," Alvarez said. "There's a lot of great pitchers, a lot of great competition."

Learning how to be consistent will be the key for Alvarez, Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. That's easier said than done, as evidenced in 2007 when all-everything Andrew McCutchen hit just .258 for the Curve.

McCutchen is the one player who came to town with enormous hype and looks like he will live up to it. He's batting .333 and has been an instant difference maker as a rookie with the Pirates this season.

With McCutchen in the big leagues, pitcher Brad Lincoln just called up to Triple-A Indianapolis and Alvarez with the Curve, the Pirates have three potential cornerstones of the future either in or knocking on the doorstep of the majors. That is great news to long-suffering Bucco fans.

The Curve, meanwhile, can look forward to the PR boost of adding a prized prospect like Alvarez, which can only help attendance at Blair County Ballpark.

"When you have a player of this talent, this highly touted ... the fans are intrigued by that, naturally," Curve general manager Rob Egan said. "They want to see what might be the next big thing in Pittsburgh."

Will Alvarez be that next big thing?

"All I can promise you is I'm going to work as hard as I can and just try to do the best I can for this organization," he said.

That's the big-picture view. For the time being, Alvarez said, "I can only focus on what I have in front of me, and that's being here in Altoona now."

Glad to have you, Pedro. You just made the worst season in Curve history a lot more exciting.

Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and cgsports12@aol.com.

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