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02/28/11 2:32 PM EST

Alvarez intent on proving himself at hot corner

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Entitlement has no place in Pedro Alvarez's vocabulary. Neither does complacency.

For a player who made one of the most hyped debuts in recent Pirates history last June, Alvarez has no intention of resting on his laurels. His natural ability alone could take him far. Only, Alvarez wants to go farther.

He wants to put to rest all that erroneous speculation about offseason weight gain and hush all those who believe he has no chance to stick at third base long term.

"All I know is that I am a third baseman and that's what I'm working for," Alvarez said. "That's where I am working to stay for the rest of my career. I play to get better."

It may well turn out that Alvarez will end up across the diamond at some point in his career. That's a discussion for another time, though, as far as Alvarez is concerned. First and foremost on his mind now is making the Opening Day roster.

What would seem to be a given to anyone else isn't being perceived as such by the 24-year-old infielder.

"We're all fighting for a spot on the team," he said. "I'm going out there each day to try and get better and to fight for that position. You're still hungry to get better and to keep your spot -- because it's always up for grabs."

The truth is Alvarez really doesn't have to worry about anyone pushing him out of the lineup. Now it's just a matter of finding out how high his ceiling really is.

On the offensive end, there is little argument that Alvarez can develop into a special middle-of-the-order bat. He endured a normal learning curve upon arriving in Pittsburgh last June before showcasing his power in an impressive 28-game stretch to end the year.

During that time, Alvarez batted .318 with 17 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs. He also averaged less than one strikeout per game after accruing 93 in his first 66 starts. There were signs of maturity and evidence that he was learning how to adjust as pitchers adjusted to him.

"People always say that you have to make adjustments and that you have to be consistent," Alvarez said. "It's one thing to hear and another thing to go through it. It's just every day trusting your coach and trusting your routine and having faith that one day things are going to start falling into place for you. The worst thing you can do is try something different just because something didn't work the other day. Once you establish your routine and an approach what you feel is going to help you, the stars align."

Alvarez seems to be the favorite to slot into the cleanup spot for Pittsburgh this season. Manager Clint Hurdle hasn't promised that role to the third baseman, but he has put Alvarez there in each of the team's first three Grapefruit League games.

For a player who many predict to be a prolific run producer, the No. 4 spot seems a natural long-term fit.

"The kid has gone about his business in a professional manner," Hurdle said. "I think we'll see through his work and his effort this spring that this kid is taking another step forward. His maturity has spiked a little bit."

Defensively, Alvarez is working overtime with infield coach Nick Leyva this spring so as not to -- in Leyva's words -- be the weakest link on the Pirates' infield defense. Of particular emphasis is first-step quickness, which is aided by Alvarez learning to maintain better balance in his pre-pitch setup.

Alvarez, who was listed as 6-foot-3, 235 pounds in the team's media guide, added muscle to his frame over the winter. That hasn't appeared to affect his agility. Nor should it impede his lateral or forward movement either, Leyva said.

"Can he play third base? I'm going to say yes," Leyva said. "I've been around for a long time and I've seen a lot of infielders that people think maybe someone can't. It's my job that he can when it's all over. Pedro is a good athlete. We've got to take that into consideration when we start working with him. I'm not going to ask him to do some things that he is not capable of doing. If so, I'm not doing my job."

Added Hurdle: "He's working hard. He knows the value of a good third baseman. He knows what he's capable of doing. He's had some very good defensive stretches. He's had some stretches that weren't Major League quality, and he knows that. He's out to become the best third baseman he can be."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.