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Pirates third baseman Alvarez's weight in question

BRADENTON, Fla. — The best-kept secret at Pirates spring training camp isn't the team's total payroll, manager Clint Hurdle's cell phone number or who will bat leadoff on Opening Day.

It's Pedro Alvarez's weight.

"I'm not sure what it is," Alvarez said in a quiet, terse voice as he pulled on layers of workout clothes at his locker. "I haven't weighed myself in the past few days. I don't think it's relevant right now."

Alvarez, 24, clearly looks bulkier than he did as a rookie last year, when he weighed 235 pounds. Hurdle says simply that the 6-foot-3 Alvarez is "big-boned."

The question the Pirates must answer — and soon — is whether Alvarez can be an effective third baseman if he carries a little extra girth around the mid-section. His batting doesn't figure to be affected by his weight.

"The body composition is not ideally where we want it to be, but he's close enough to where we can get it done," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's worked hard and deserves a lot of credit. Genes are tough things to overcome."

Alvarez took heat from management in 2009 after reporting to minicamp heavier than team officials wanted. After the season he spent the winter in Arizona with a personal trainer and stuck to a strict weight-maintenance plan.

This past offseason Alvarez trained on his own at Vanderbilt University, where he played in college He got married in January and went on an extended honeymoon.

"It was a pretty eventful offseason," Alvarez said. "That's the life of a professional baseball player. You've got 3 12 months to live out (what you can't do) the rest of the year."

Did Alvarez eat too much wedding cake• At PirateFest in late January, an Internet report suggested he was 15 pounds overweight.

"It was completely blown out of proportion," Huntington said.

Even before Alvarez's weight became an issue, there were concerns about his defensive skills at third base. He was drafted second overall in 2008, but some scouts predicted Alvarez eventually would have to switch to first base.

"He's got work to do defensively at third base, no question," Huntington said. "But he's shown us the physical tools to be an average third baseman, and that's what we need him to be."

Alvarez is fine when he charges the ball but not as strong moving laterally for hard liners and grounders.

He made 17 errors in 95 games last season, fourth-most among National League third basemen. But his range factor (putouts plus assists divided by games played) was 2.76, third-highest in the league.

"He's had some very good defensive stretches," Hurdle said. "He's had some stretches that weren't major league quality, and he knows that."

Hurdle is optimistic Alvarez will improve and secure his hold on the third base job.

"He doesn't want to be the weakest link," Hurdle said. "I think we'll see through his work in the spring that this kid has taken another step forward and his maturity has spiked a little bit."

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Pirates Spring Training 2011

Pirates Spring Training 2011

Images from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

Additional Information:

Playing the field

Here is Pedro Alvarez's career fielding statistics in the minors and majors:

2009 (High-A): 58 games, 169 chances, 41 putouts, 115 assists, 13 errors, .923 fielding percentage

2009 (Double-A): 51, 145, 40, 93, 12, .917

2010 (Triple-A): 62, 173, 28, 134, 11, .936

2010 (Pirates): 95, 276, 61, 198, 17, .938

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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