Talented Trio

Three prospects vie for a spot in the big leagues





BRADENTON, Fla.—The Pirates have all three of their top prospects—third baseman Pedro Alvarez, outfielder Jose Tabata and righthander Brad Lincoln—in major league camp for spring training, and all are expected to arrive in Pittsburgh at some point in 2010.
Just not at the outset.

General manager Neal Huntington has stated throughout the offseason that all three "are not being ruled out, by any means" from making the Opening Day roster, but he has been just as clear that all three could "benefit from more seasoning" with Triple-A Indianapolis. None has played a full year in Triple-A.

Should any of the three—notably Alvarez, the Pirates' most highly touted prospect in years—fare well in Grapefruit League play, a demotion is sure to be unpopular in Pittsburgh, where the public's patience is low after 17 losing seasons. But by keeping any of the three down in the minors in 2010, even for a short time, the Pirates can delay the players' free agency (and perhaps arbitration) clocks by a full year.

If Alvarez, Tabata and Lincoln are going to fuss over that, it has not been evident with their offseasons: Alvarez and Tabata reported to spring training leaner and stronger, and Lincoln reinforced the superb conditioning program he began two years ago.

All three also have taken the non-controversial stance that they aim to reach Pittsburgh as soon as possible, even if it means forcing management to make a tough call this spring.

PITTBURGERS

• Shortstop Jarek Cunningham, who missed all of 2009 to reconstructive knee surgery, will be assigned to high Class A Bradenton to open the season. An 18th-round pick out of high school in 2008, he batted .318/.385/.507 in a 43-game Rookie-ball debut that same year.

• Righthander Tim Alderson, the prospect acquired from the Giants in the Freddy Sanchez trade, asked the Pirates to restore his delivery to the way it was when the Giants drafted him 22nd overall in 2007. He felt the change cost him 3-4 mph on his fastball.