PITTSBURGH — The Pirates have called up prospects Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln during the past three weeks. The most conspicuous name missing is the one their fans have been waiting to see: third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
Alvarez, the No. 2 pick in the June 2008 draft and the Pirates' top prospect, remained at Triple-A Indianapolis as Pittsburgh opened an interleague series against the White Sox on Tuesday. Exactly when Alvarez might be recalled, general manager Neil Huntington isn't saying — even though there were hints last week that his arrival might be imminent.
Though Alvarez, 23, has significantly upgraded what previously was a weakness — hitting left-handers — Huntington said there are areas that need improving before he is major-league ready.
That doesn't mean, however, that Alvarez won't be up soon.
"He's not going to be an accomplished player in all areas when he comes up, but no player is," Huntington said Tuesday. "We're looking forward to his arrival here in Pittsburgh, whether it's this week, next week or next month. It's going to happen here at some point, pending health and the continuation of his progress and development."
After they were called up, Walker, Tabata and Lincoln all said they thought Alvarez was ready. Going into Tuesday's play, Alvarez was hitting .279 with 13 homers, 15 doubles and 53 RBIs at Indianapolis, the kind of power the Pirates are lacking.
Only one Pittsburgh hitter, Garrett Jones (10 homers), has more than six homers, and starting leftfielder Lastings Milledge still hasn't homered this season. The Pirates are last in the majors in runs.
Huntington is aware there will be tremendous pressure on Alvarez to immediately start carrying what possibly is the majors' weakest offense when he does join the Pirates. That's a lot to ask of a player who is only two years removed from amateur baseball.
"We're going to be conservative about moving guys up, not only to the majors but from A ball to Double A. There's too many damaged prospects," Huntington said. "It's a tough balancing act. The game is littered with players that were rushed because teams were desperate. If a player's not ready, he's not ready. That's a foolish way to run an organization and a foolish way to run a business."
Even when Alvarez does move into their lineup, the Pirates are aware he won't be a finished product.
"Is he ready to come up and face the best situational lefties in the game? He's probably not going to be ready for that for a year plus," Huntington said. "Is he where he needs to be (defensively)? He's certainly getting closer every day."
Even if it's not close enough to satisfy impatient Pirates fans who were hoping Alvarez would be in Pittsburgh by now.
"We want to make sure he's ready so he can have success when he's up here," manager John Russell said.