By The Common Man
We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.
The Pirates aren't going anywhere this year, but have a few nice hitters that look like building blocks going forward. Andrew McCutchen is a force who is quickly turning into one of the best players in the National League. Neil Walker surprised as a solid 2B in his first season at the keystone. Jose Tabata has a solid approach at the plate and is a good basestealer, who could end up adding more power in the next year or so.
But big questions surround former #2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez, who has the talent to be an impact hitter, but whose plate discipline has been nothing short of atrocious. Last year, he struck out in more than 30% of his at bats at the big league level, while walking just once for every 3.22 Ks. He simply does not make enough contact. If he had played enough to qualify for the batting title, Alvarez would have been third from the bottom in contact percentage, according to Fan Graphs, behind only noted whiffers Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard. This is mainly due to his absolute inability to reach anything out of the strike zone, where he would have trailed only Reynolds with enough playing time.
Strikeouts aren't nearly as bad as most fans think. They often are the price for better patience and power, which can make a play much more valuable. But Alvarez's skills in those two areas are still maturing. He is still young, he'll play as a 24 year old this year, and has room to grow. But whether he learns to actually control the strike zone is going to determine whether he ends up being another Adam Dunn, on which the Pirates can build their franchise back up, or Tony Batista, on whom they cannot.