02/13/09 7:55 PM EST
Alvarez happy to put focus on field
With contract, offseason behind, first-rounder in initial camp
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
After all, it's out on those fields at Pirate City where Alvarez can finally focus solely on baseball.
"I'm just excited to be here," said Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in last year First-Year Player's Draft. "I'm going to work my butt off, and that's why I'm here early -- to get in shape for Spring Training and get a gist of what this is like."
Alvarez has been working out at the Pirates' Spring Training complex for almost two weeks now, as have a number of the team's players. Position players are not required to report until Monday, with the first full-squad workout then scheduled for Tuesday.
However, for Alvarez, his arrival at camp came with a few more questions than would normally trail a first-round Draft pick.
Though the standout collegiate third baseman was regarded as a can't-miss talent coming out of Vanderbilt University, his entrance into the organization was marred by contractual disagreements, the involvement of the Commissioner's Office and the Players Association in a grievance filed, and a holdout by Alvarez after signing his initial contract on at the Aug. 15 midnight deadline.
All would eventually be resolved when Alvarez signed a new contract -- this one a Major League deal -- on Sept. 24 that has him in line to earn a guaranteed $6.355 million over the next four years.
However, Alvarez's public image took another hit in January, when Pirates president Frank Coonelly publicly stated disappointment in the third baseman's level of conditioning.
During the team's annual PirateFest, Coonelly revealed that Alvarez had not been in peak physical shape since reporting to the Pirates' instructional league in September. At the point when Alvarez joined the organization last fall, he hadn't played a game since May. And his own conditioning program over the summer hadn't been nearly stringent enough.
"The reality was that he hadn't done what he needed to do," said Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark, who was in Bradenton when Alvarez reported to instructional league. "When he came in September, he wasn't ready to compete."
As a result of not being in better shape, Alvarez developed tendinitis in his knee during instructional league, which consequently put a crick in the third baseman's offseason conditioning work. Though Alvarez spent the winter working out at Vanderbilt University, he was shut down from running for almost four months because of the tendinitis.
The result was a Catch-22 scenario: He was not in the shape he needed to be in, and the tendinitis then prevented him from getting back into the shape he needed to be in.
However, the tendinitis has now been gone away. And when Alvarez was asked about the comments and concerns made regarding his conditioning, he said he's hopeful that being at full health will allow him to now get to where he needs to be physically.
"I wouldn't say I was out of shape, though you can always be in better shape than what you are," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good now. I am not too worried. I knew coming in here that I was going to work hard."
Stark lauded the work Alvarez has done in recent weeks, noting that the infielder has lost weight and is beginning to improve his body composition. The Pirates and Alvarez have further goals in both of those areas, but the positive sign is that Alvarez is now moving in the right direction.
"He obviously wasn't where he needed to be on first impression, but he's been more than impressive in his workouts lately," Stark said. "He still has a long way to go, but he's done a great job down here. He looks a lot better than he did in January."
As for dealing with the image hit Alvarez took last summer during the negotiation process, it appears that amends have been made.
"I've been welcomed here greatly and have had no complaints about that," he said. "I'm just here to work hard and be the best player I can."
Added Stark: "He is a real good, engaging kid. And fans are going to enjoy watching him swing that bat."
Alvarez's presence in Major League camp is a bit different than many of the other players present. While a number of his organizational teammates are fighting for spots on the big league roster, Alvarez will spend his time in Bradenton soaking in his first experience of professional baseball.
Though many expect him to make a quick climb through the system, Alvarez is obviously not looking to make the Major League team just yet.
"I'm just like a sponge right now, taking in everything I can," he said after taking part in voluntary workouts Friday. "The type of players that I'm around, it's just an honor to be with these guys. I want to get as much experience as I can and ask them questions. I want to learn little tricks to stay in shape, to stay hungry like they do.
It hasn't yet been decided where Alvarez will be starting the season, though it will be at one of the organization's two Class A affiliates. That decision does partially hinge on the infielder's performance in Florida this spring.
"The next six weeks will tell us a lot about where he is physically and mentally and where he needs to go," Stark said. "His time down here will have an effect on that decision."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.