Something that has not been spoken about much this offseason is how incredible third baseman Pedro Alvarez's postseason performance was against the St. Louis Cardinals. The third baseman removed most of the doubts about his abilities as he carried the team to near victory over the eventual pennant winners. Heading into the 2014 season, Alvarez will be looking to break out in his age-27 season, but is there a chance of the All-Star having to platoon with another player?
Alvarez concluded his second full season with the Pirates posting a 3.3 WAR after earning his first career All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award, belting a league-leading 36 home runs while knocking in 100. However, he led the league in the most dubious of categories with 186 strikeouts, and posted an abysmal .296 OBP. Alvarez turned up his performance in the playoffs, posting a 1.342 OPS in the National League Division Series against the Cardinals. He hit three clutch home runs, and nearly led the Pirates to the Championship Series, although Cardinal pitchers Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha had other ideas. Pedro's defense has always been a point of contention, as he has led the league in errors for back to back years, totaling 54 over that span. However, he has a cannon for an arm and often makes plays few other third baseman can. His tendency to try and make the most difficult of plays when he should just eat the ball leads to many of his errors and errant throws. Another issue many take with Alvarez is his inability to hit right-handed pitching.
Alvarez hit just .180 with three of his 36 home runs against lefties. Some have suggested the Pirates platoon Alvarez with Josh Harrison or, if they sign a full-time first baseman, Gaby Sanchez, who played in one game at third base for the team in 2013, and took a lot of reps at the position in last season's spring training.
Harrison, who served primarily as the team's utility man and pinch runner in limited time last season, should again make the squad and see time all over the diamond, including at third base. Last season, Harrison hit .350 with a .981 OPS against left handed pitching, something that would make for an excellent pairing with Alvarez. Harrison needs to improve his defense at the hot corner, and must improve his decision making on the base paths. Harrison was picked off a pivotal points, including late in Game 4 of the NLDS, and the team can ill afford to see the spark plug repeat these mistakes.
Sanchez is currently in line to be in a platoon at first base with Andrew Lambo, but should the team decide to sign a free agent or trade for a full-time first baseman, the team might decide to flip Gaby across the diamond and force him into a platoon with Alvarez. Sanchez had excellent numbers against left handed pitching in 2013, hitting .333 with a .987 OPS. Sanchez is notorious for being able to get on base, and his 44 free passes in comparison to just 51 strikeouts provided illustration. While he struggles against right-handed pitching, Sanchez will still see the field in some valued capacity during the 2014 season, whether it be at first or at third.
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