Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nine Questions: #3 The Alvord Equation


Some problems are good ones to have. For Auburn, one problem is just where Zach Alvord is going to play his freshman year. First, let's clear one thing up. Alvord is playing. He has to play. Alvord has already made the Cape Cod League Rosters to 2011, and has yet to play an inning for Auburn. That's serious talent. You can't keep a guy on the bench and "develop" him when he turned down his hometown club and some nice MLB money to come to Auburn:

John Alvord said that due to Zach’s guaranteed opportunity to play at Auburn, he had requested an unspecified signing bonus which his father described as "high."

...


"He was in a position that teams are going to have to buy him out of that college offer. That was by design by us. If he’s going to miss college ... he’s going to have to be paid for it," John Alvord said.

It's not had to read between the lines there; Alvord was promised a starting role. The question is where. Alvord was a SS in High School but from most scouting services he's seen as a next level power 2B prospect:

Second base is where his skills and body type would give him the best chance to succeed over the longest period of time. I think he’d be athletic enough to cover that ground and make the throw across the body. Looking into the crystal ball, you could see this guy as an offensive-minded second baseman.

That's from Baseball Beginnings. The MLB Scouting service wasn't as high on Alvord:

Arm strength: He's got a pretty strong arm, enough for second base.

Fielding: He certainly won't play short at the next level. He might be OK as an offensive-minded second baseman. He could be an interesting option behind the plate, though he's never played there.

Range: He's got below-average range in the middle infield.

Physical Description: Alvord is strong and fairly athletic. Some have compared him to Gordon Beckham.

You'll hear that Gordon Beckham comparison thrown around a lot (even some random Dustin Pedroia comparisons). I'm still unsure. I haven't seen enough film of Alvord's fielding to make that call:

That's not a highlight reel. It's just Alvord goofing off.

So, we've got a couple of issues here. You have a kid who's raw talent, power, and natural ability will put him on the field and in the starting lineup. A shortstop in High School who some MLB scouts are saying projects better as a 2B. Fair Enough. The first big question is why are they projecting him at 2B (and some 3B)? It's mainly because of the limited fielding ability but a bat that should make him an asset.

There's one problem. Auburn already has a 2B. His name is Justin Hargett. He's a veteran and will be a much needed asset to the infield. Alvord can't play SS either. Casey McElroy has that position sewn up.

First let's look at the X Factors and some generalizations/ assumptions:

  • I don't think Dan Gamache will be Auburn's everyday 3B. Yes, he played 52 games at 3B, but unless his offense has improved tremendously over the offseason. The errors in the field absolutely killed Auburn at times last year. My hope is that Gamache becomes a DH and backup 1B.
  • I think Kevin Patterson will the everyday 1B (more on this Friday).
  • Regardless of the scenarios, Casey McElroy remains unchanged at SS.
  • Justin Bryant will play more OF and closer than IF.
  • Tyler Dial, while a future stud, won't make enough headway in the fall/spring to compete full for the IF positions.

We're left with 2 scenarios and they both involve 2 players: Zach Alvord and Justin Hargett.

SCENARIO ORANGE: Alvord at 3B. Hargett at 2B.

  • "Path of least resistance". Instead of half of Auburn's infield learning a new position. It's only Alvord that would change.
  • Keeps Alvord on the field and the move from SS to 3B could be a bit easier to get used to then the move from SS to 2B.
  • Less pressure on a Freshman

SCENARIO BLUE: Alvord at 2B. Hargett at 3B.

  • The "development" scenario. This would give Alvord better training for the pros and might be a more natural fit.
  • If Alvord does have true SS range, then it will help KP at 1B and take some pressure off of him.
  • Less strain on Hargett if any injury creeps up again.

Both Hargett and Alvord throw right-handed, so that point is moot. Right now, I'm in favor of Scenario Orange. I think it makes the most sense. I can't say that will stick, however, because just last week I was all for Scenario Blue.

What it will ultimately come down to:

  • Will Patterson need help with his range at 1B?
  • Does Alvord have the arm and range to go 3rd to 1st on a consistent basis?
  • Is Hargett fully healthy?

So where will Alvord end up playing? Wherever it ends up being, it's good for Auburn.

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