Pedro Alvarez is a little too young to be called “Pops”, but the 26 year-old Pittsburgh Pirate third baseman could very well be the next Willie Stargell.
I know that’s a bold claim, but I’m not the only one making it. Ex-Pirate catcher and now barbeque chef-extraordinaire Manny Sanguillen, who played with Pops himself, once compared the way the ball jumps off Alvarez’s bat to his legendary teammate’s famous swing.
And with 65 HRs in the books so far, El Toro, as some like to call him, is on a pace, albeit an early one, to break the late great Hall of Famer’s Pirate record of 475 home runs sometime around his 38th birthday. Yes, it may be way too early in his career for any serious kind of extrapolations like that, but with a 14.1 at-bats per home run rate this season, time and talent make the claim seem less outrageous than it might sound.
Since becoming a regular the last two seasons, Alvarez has averaged 16.4 at-bats per home run. Stargell had a 16.7 average for his career. Doing the math, Alvarez needs some 6740 ABs to add 411 home runs to his current total, and with an average of 562 at-bats per year, he’ll need about 12 years to reach 476. He’d only be 38 by then, too. Pops was 42 when he hung up his spikes for the last time.
Gifted with natural power and a smooth home run swing that’s allowed the 6-foot-3, 235 pounder to hit some of the longest dingers to date at PNC Park, including two over 450 feet, Alvarez is poised to break out this season and become the player that many in the organization projected him to be when they drafted him first back in 2008. His inaugural 30-homer season last year foreshadows a long career as a home run hitter.
While Alvarez’s defense at third has been fantastic of late, he still has yet to achieve the consistency needed there to be a career player at the hot corner. Some in the front office envision him moving over to first some day, a position Stargell is best known for and played much of his career.
Alvarez has repeatedly expressed his objection to the idea though, and looks to remain at third for the foreseeable future. If his defense keeps improving, there’ll be no debate and one less similarity to the Pirate Hall-of-Famer.
Stargell played and hit about half his games and homers at Forbes Field, with a distant right field wall some 376 feet away, before moving on to a hitter-friendlier Three Rivers Stadium in 1972, where he played until retiring in 1982. Alvarez doesn’t have that handicap. Right field at PNC Park was made for left-handed hitters. A 21-foot high fence, named in honor of no. 21 Roberto Clemente, is only 320 feet from home plate.
With Pedro’s penchant for hitting the long high ones, the height of the monumental wall is not really an issue. Alvarez could probably reach it swinging with one hand.
It may takes some time, but the only thing keeping Pedro Alvarez from becoming Pops II might just be time. How old does someone have to be before you can call them “Pops”?