Third base was a problem area for the Pirates when Frank Coonelly and company took over after the 2007 season. Jose Bautista was highly touted, but had cobbled together years of .235, .254, and .242 in 2006-08 with marginal power for a corner infielder in Pittsburgh.
So when they swung their mega deal with Jay Bay before the 2008 trade deadline, they made sure to grab a third sacker; he was even more highly touted prospect Andy LaRoche. Off went Bautista to Toronto for a PTBNL, who would become Robinzon Diaz.
They also snagged a power-hitting corner player with the second pick of the 2008 draft from Vandy, Pedro Alvarez. The FO also had a left-over #1 draft pick from 2004, Pine-Richland's Neil Walker, riding an up-and-down career at Indy and in the second season of transition from catching to third base.
Well, it took a bit to sort out, but in 2011, they do have a guy on the corner whose bat plays the position with Pedro. And after a game of musical chairs that Mother Goose would be proud to call her own, they also got a guy whose bat plays at second with The Pittsburgh Kid.
As for the third wheel, LaRoche, well, he's trying to establish himself as a four-spot utility guy in Arizona after suffering through a season from hell, compiling a line of .206/4/16 and losing his position.
Alvarez looks like he'll hold the fort at third for the time being; it's easier to find a big bopper first baseman. But he'll move to first, probably sooner rather than later.
Heck, the rumor mill already named Adrian Beltre as the unlikeliest of FA candidates for Pittsburgh, but still it's an indicator that the suits will switch Pedro across the diamond without hesitation if and when the opportunity arises.
His arm is first rate, and Alvarez is beginning to show some range to his left. But too many balls up the line, bouncers off his mitt and his bulky body make his long-term employment at the position problematic. 17 errors, a .938 FA and -8.6 UZR/150 are not numbers that a ground-ball heavy staff can long survive behind them.
LaRoche is the only in-house candidate for the position, along with Walker. But AL is fighting for his pro life and is far from a lock to get arbitration tendered to him, or for that matter, to stay on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster.
And while a switch by the Kid to third would shore up the Pirates in the short run, the FO feels that Walker is better suited to play second in the longer view. Certainly his bat is solid middle infield material, and considering that 2010 was OJT for him at the position, it's possible that he'll show a jump in field performance in 2011.
Forget the minors. When Pedro and the Kid got their calls to the show, Indy had to scuffle to find players for third; Jimmy Negrych, Aki Iwamura and whoever raised their hand manned the position. Hitting machine Josh Harrison handled the spot at Altoona, but his bat profiles as a middle infielder, not a corner guy.
Right now, 20 year old Dominican Eric Avila, who hit 7 GCL homers in 2010, is the best prospect at the position. 21 year old Venezuelan Elevys Gonzalez showed some promise at West Virginia, but his bat profiles for the middle infield, which he has played quite often. Both he and Harrison have the look of MLB utility guys.
After the aforementioned Beltre, the third base class is fairly thin; first base is much stronger, so don't expect the cavalry to arrive from this season's marketplace.
Help may come from the upcoming draft. The Bucs have the numero uno pick, and it's thought that the alpha dog is 20 year old third baseman Anthony Rendon of Rice. There are a couple of tempting college pitchers floating near the top, too, but the Pirates seem well stocked in young arms; they need a couple of everyday players now.
So in 2010, the Pirates had third base covered in Pittsburgh and at rookie league Bradenton; there was nothing in between. And if Pedro plays fewer than 150 games in 2011, the Bucs are in trouble.