The first workout of spring training is designed for pitchers and catchers. When the Pittsburgh Pirates opened camp on Thursday, much of the attention was focused on first baseman Pedro Alvarez.
The opening day third baseman in each of the past four seasons, Alvarez is moving to first base.
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"I feel very good about it. Very positive," Alvarez said after a short morning workout. "I’m grateful for the opportunity to go out there and compete over there. I’m taking it day by day, taking in as much as I can to learn the position."
Alvarez arrived in Florida on Wednesday to attend his arbitration hearing in St. Petersburg. Robert Herzog, James Oldham and Dan Brent awarded him a raise from $4.25 million to $5.75 million on Thursday rather than the Pirates’ offer of $5.25 million.
The second overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Alvarez has made all but five of his 547 career starts at third base. In 2013, he hit 36 home runs to tie Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt for the National league lead.
Alvarez batted .231 last year and hit only 18 home runs. Alvarez made 25 errors, 24 on wild throws, raising his three-year errors total at third base to 79. In mid-August, he was replaced by Josh Harrison as the everyday third baseman.
Alvarez played five games at first base before a season-ending foot injury.
"It’s important to try to learn as much as you can from every instance, good or bad," Alvarez said. "I would like to think every day I’m learning more and continuing to grow as a player and a person."
Manager Clint Hurdle said during the winter meetings that he envisioned Alvarez as Pittsburgh’s starter at first. After the stress fracture in his foot healed, Alvarez spent the offseason working out his home near Nashville, Tennessee
"It was repetition, trying to catch as many ground balls as I could," Alvarez said. "No different than the work I put in when I was playing third. The more work I put in, the more comfortable I feel."
Pittsburgh planned to monitor Alvarez’s workload for the first few days of camp to ensure he is over his injury. Hurdle plans to create some simulated games to get Alvarez extra fielding practice.
"First base is a position where there’s going to be action, but you might not always get a ground ball or have to make a backhanded play in games," Hurdle said. "There’ll be a lot of work done along the way. It won’t be slow-go; it’ll be aggressive."
Kevin Young, an infielder with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals from 1992-03, will help Alvarez adjust to first base. Young was hired in December as a special assistant.
Young primarily was a third baseman in the minors but played mostly first base in the majors. He says moving across the diamond isn’t as simple as it might seem.
"For Little League, it might be," Young said. "But at this level, it’s an art over there. How well you handle the glove at first base will impact the rest of the infield and your pitching staff."
Alvarez will get extra one-on-one instruction from Young during camp.
"Pedro’s a good athlete and he’s got a strong mindset," Young said. "If he takes that into the transition he’ll be successful."