Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez took another few steps in the right direction this week as he continues his recovery from a right quadriceps strain.
According to Jenifer Langosch, beat writer for MLB.com, the young infielder has now played four games at extended spring training in Bradenton, Florida and could be cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment early next week.
Alvarez is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list Sunday, but the Pirates will almost certainly ask him to play several games at one of their minor league affiliates before they consider penciling his name back into the big league lineup.
The 24-year-old was batting just .208/.283/.304 with two homers in 36 games before the injury. He clearly needs to get his timing right at the plate, and a week-long stay at Triple-A Indianapolis should do the trick.
Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports that the Pirates have decided to convert outfielder JB Shuck into a two-way player. Recent comments relayed from the club’s director of player development, Larry Broadway, indicated that the outfielder would be coached in developing his pitching skills while working at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Per Broadway, the change would be enacted to help the veteran outfielder develop some much-needed versatility in the majors, where he’s only ever been limited to outfield and DH responsibilities. Well, except for the two games in which he pitched an inning of relief: once, against the Nationals in a blowout 11-4 loss in 2016, then in a similarly painful loss to the Diamondbacks this past April. During the latter outing, he finished the game with a 13-pitch ninth inning after allowing just one hit and one walk.
Add to that one minor-league outing in 2012, and the 31-year-old Shuck has pitched just three times over the course of his 12-season career in pro ball. While he has three years of experience on the mound from his college days, he’ll need quite a bit of preparation to handle the kind of workload expected from a two-way outfielder/reliever: 20+ innings pitched over a season and 20+ games played as a designated hitter or position player.
Still, his lack of experience doesn’t seem to faze Broadway, at least not this early in the process. There’s no word yet on how soon Shuck would be expected to debut his new skillset on a major-league level.