It's kind of nice to have some options to talk about at different positions going into next season. I will let you decide this one. Who should be the opening day third baseman next season? Will it be this years starter Andy Laroche, local product Neil Walker or last seasons first round draft pick Pedro Alvarez. I will make a case for each and let you decide. I'm curious what everyone thinks.
First, Laroche. No doubt, he has made huge strides from a season ago at this time, when he looked truly awful. he has become a very good defensive third baseman and he has shown glimpses of having a good bat. Laroche's average is down to .248, after flirting in the .280 range for a large part of the season. The power really isn't there either. Only 7HR and 46RBI (leading the team by the way. very sad). He doesn't strike out much (65), but doesn't walk enough either (43). His on base percentage needs to get better (.326), which drawing more walks will help. His slugging percentage is a rather low .371. Too low for playing a position associated with run production. Overall, he handles the bat pretty well though. I'm sure the numbers will get to a consistent .285, 20/75 type of player.
Second, we will look at Walker. He is the popular choice, being the local boy. He is starting to tear the cover off the ball at AAA Indy and surely will get a call up in September sometime. I won't get too into the minor league numbers, but he has his average up to .270 and has 15 HR/69 RBI, despite missing a big portion of the season. The scouting report defensively is that he can handle playing third base at the major league level. I don't know how many at bats he will take from Laroche in September, but I would like to get a look at him and if he does well, he has to be included in the conversation.
Finally, the can't miss Pedro Alvarez. He is the big middle of the order bat this team desperately needs. I've heard he won't come up and hit right away, but I disagree. If he is that talented, he will perform fine. Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria didn't miss a beat when they got their call ups and I don't feel Alvarez will either. He is hitting .330 at Altoona, despite rarely getting pitches to hit. Combined between West Virginia and Altoona he has over 30Hr and 100RBI in his first season of pro ball. He has a little work to do defensively, but I hear he will be fine.
So who will it be? My choice is the unpopular one. I think Laroche starts out the season as the third baseman. Pirates management will stick with him for another season to justify the Bay trade. He has made strides and I think he continues to grow as a ball player. However, I feel the final result is that he will end up only slightly better than brother Adam. If the power comes, he could turn out to be a decent ball player. I think Walker may begin next season as a bench guy and gets a chance to stick around. With Alvarez, I think they won't rush him and will start him at AAA, but by mid-June 2010 he will be hitting cleanup in PNC Park