Pedro Alvarez rolled the dice three years ago when he walked onto the Vanderbilt campus as a baseball recruit.
He arrived in Nashville from New York City shortly after being selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 2005 Major League Draft. He had rejected a signing bonus of nearly $1 million to attend Vanderbilt.
Some questioned his sanity.
“It’s a gamble,” Alvarez said during his freshman year as a Commodore.
That gamble paid off Thursday, as Alvarez was selected No. 2 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the draft.
Now armed with the leverage of a favorable draft spot, and represented by super-agent Scott Boras, Alvarez figures to rake in millions if and when he comes to financial terms with Pittsburgh.
The Pirates are banking that Alvarez, a 6-foot-2 third baseman, will provide left-handed batting power that enabled him to become perhaps the best player in Vanderbilt history.
“Pedro is a player we’ve done a lot of work on,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. “It’s our belief that he has the potential of being a middle-of-the-lineup-type. It’s our belief that he will be a quality Major League third baseman.”
Alvarez became the third Vanderbilt player in the past two years to be drafted in the top 10. Last year, pitcher David Price was drafted No. 1 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and pitcher Casey Weathers went No. 8 to the Colorado Rockies.
Also on Thursday, Vanderbilt junior shortstop Ryan Flaherty was selected with the No. 41 overall pick by the Chicago Cubs in the compensatory round, sandwiched between the first and second rounds.
Flaherty had expected to be picked no higher than the second round.
“It was higher than I thought,” he said. “When I saw it live on TV, it was a pleasant surprise. I’m just happy to have the opportunity.”
Like Alvarez, Flaherty is expected to bypass his senior season at Vanderbilt and sign a pro contract.
Shortstop Anthony Hewitt of Brooklyn, N.Y., a Vanderbilt recruit, was drafted No. 24 overall in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies, drastically reducing his chances of becoming a Commodore.
Alvarez’s long-term goals unfolded precisely according to plan. His goal was to improve as a player and make himself even more marketable to Major League teams for the 2008 draft.
In 2006, he was named National Freshman of the Year. In 2007, he earned consensus All-America honors. In 2008, despite missing 23 games with a hand injury, he still hit nine home runs and finished in a tie for the career school lead with 49.
“Pedro had confidence that he could better himself, and he has in a lot of different ways,” VU coach Tim Corbin said.
Corbin expects continued ascension for Alvarez.
“There aren’t a lot of third basemen out there who hit like that,” Corbin said. “He’s got crazy power. Every year he’s played, he’s put up consistent numbers.”
Now comes the waiting – and the negotiating. Draft picks must sign by Aug. 15, or teams lose the rights to a player.
Last year’s No. 2 overall pick, shortstop Michael Moustakas, received a $4 million signing bonus with the Kansas City Royals.
“This is the first step of a long process, and that will be taken care of when it comes,” said Alvarez, who hit 40 home runs during his first two seasons at Vanderbilt. “It’s going to be a team thing when I sit down with my family and my advisor to talk about it.”
And then, the gamble will pay off.
“I can’t even think about that right now,” Alvarez said. “I need to sit down with my parents and my evaluators and talk about that later. Right now I’m just trying to take everything in.”