It happens every spring in camps across the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, a player who was not in the plans for the coming season puts together a spring training for the ages and hits himself into the conversation. Other times, it comes down to an established player or prospect who simply doesn’t play up to par – leaving open the opportunity for the upstart player to head North once camp breaks. F0r the Pirates, both of these scenarios are true in 2012. Matt Hague, the first baseman who sometimes plays third base, has thrust himself into the limelight as a player that inevitably will be making the trip to Pittsburgh in less than a week.
With the continuing struggles of highly-touted third baseman Pedro Alvarez, and the rapid improvement of back-up third baseman Casey McGehee, Hague could very well fit in as the starting first baseman or in a platoon with incumbent Garrett Jones. The ability and progress of the 27-year old prospect is obvious and after another fine performance today against the Tampa Bay Rays, it looks as if Hague has secured his slot on the 25-man roster.
All Hague did today was launch a 2-run homer to tie the game and come within a rabbits tail of hitting a game-winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth in what ended up a 3-3 tie. That now gives Matt Hague a spring training line of .383/.383/.723 with 5 HR and 12 RBI in 47 ABs. Those are legit numbers that have come against some of the top flight pitching in the Grapefruit League. Hague has earned a shot in Pittsburgh, and he has done it on his own merit – not due to the simple inability of certain others to get the job done.
So, if Matt Hague and Garrett Jones are the first base platoon, that allows McGehee to head back over to his natural position of third base and be on call for the inevitable failure of Pedro Alvarez. Pirates executives and Manager Clint Hurdle can talk about Alvarez having bad luck all they want, fans are watching Alvarez flail away up there and we all see a guy who is simply not ready to be the Opening Day third baseman for a team that expects to compete in a wide-open NL Central Division. While Jones has not exactly been doing a Roy Hobbs impersonation in Florida, we all know what he can do against right-handed pitching. Having Hague on hand to battle the tough southpaws is the best option for this team.
Alvarez has one option left, and if the Pirates are smart they will use that option to send Pedro down to Indianapolis, where he will get 400+ AB playing everyday and have a chance to re-establish himself as a major piece to this Pirates puzzle. The Bucs have a rough stretch of games to start the season and if they allow Alvarez to drag them down to a 5-12 or 4-13 start thru the early West Cost trip, the season will be lost before it gets started.
Alvarez needs to be watched daily, trained by the best hitting gurus the Buccos have on staff, and given time to elevate his confidence to a level where he feels comfortable against major league pitchers. He is lost at the plate, and the investment the franchise has in him dignifies the plan to do what needs to be done.
Matt Hague should be in Pittsburgh on April 5, starting at first base against the tough Phillies lefties. The time for hope is over, the regular season is starting and the Pirates owe it to the fans to put the best 25 guys on the plane ride north. Hague is one of those guys, he has earned a window seat on that flight home.