BRADENTON, Fla. -- A year ago, there was a lot of interest surrounding the shape in which Pedro Alvarez checked into Spring Training camp. The Pirates had wanted him to play winter ball during the 2011-12 offseason and he declined, preferring to follow his own workout regimen.

Thus, evaluating Alvarez's condition was a popular topic. Everyone was complimentary, eager to start things off on the right foot.

No such talk this spring -- when Alvarez bounces around Pirate City's fields in really great shape, after another offseason of work at the famed IMG Academy, the local hothouse for athletes. Fans crowding in for the workouts are visibly enthusiastic about the third baseman's chances of even improving on his 30-homer season.

"Pedro continues to have a better understanding of things he needs to do in the offseason to get himself in a good place for Spring Training, where he isn't trying to play catch up," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He worked extremely hard at IMG for an extended period of time, and was able to come into this camp in a very good place."

That goes for Alvarez's frame of mind, too. A year ago, coming off a disappointing sophomore season, he was reserved. Now, he is spirited and vocal as he goes through infield drills and batting practice.

Martin wants to play short for Canada in Classic

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates prospects Jameson Taillon and Chris Leroux have been slotted to start for Team Canada in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic, against the United States and Mexico, respectively.

The irony is that Pirates batterymate Russell Martin, the lone big league receiver on Team Canada's roster, may not be catching them.

Instead, Martin-to-Morneau could be a common call as long as Team Canada is alive in the Classic.

As in, Martin fields the grounder to short and tosses to first baseman Justin Morneau for the out.

Bemused grins greeted Martin's initial comments that he would like to play shortstop in the international tournament. However, that idea has leapt from his wish-list onto his to-do list.

"I'm doing it. It's a position I really want to play," Russell said Tuesday morning in Pirate City. "I was signed as a catcher [by the Pirates, to a two-year contract as a free agent], so it isn't going to happen here. But it's a position I've always wanted to play, and this gives me a chance."

Martin was drafted in 2002 by the Dodgers as a second baseman, and has played a handful of Major League games in the infield, but none at short. It is an entry on his bucket list he is eager to check off.

"I just want to have fun [in the Classic]. It's tough enough having to learn a whole new [Pirates] staff here. I really don't want to have to do it twice," he said. "Canada has a young pitching staff, and that would be too much pressure, too much responsibility."

The only other catcher on the Canadian roster is Chris Robinson, an eight-year Minor League veteran in the Orioles organization. The roster includes Major Leaguers Brett Lawrie and Pete Orr, but both are corner infielders.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington is aware of Martin's plans and said, "We'll sit down and discuss it with him soon."

Worth noting

• This can only be a good sign: James McDonald, pitching batting practice, was nasty enough to saw off Andrew McCutchen and crack his bat.

• Gaby Sanchez at first base has extremely smooth hands -- which he again showcased in the drill where infielders intentionally pepper him with throws in the dirt -- and very agile feet for a 230-pounder.

Last word

"I'm excited to be the guy in the dugout. It's a privilege to be a Major League manager. I love being a Pirate, too. There's a lot of good things going on in Pittsburgh, and I want to see it through as much as anybody." -- Hurdle, reacting to having his contract to manage the Bucs extended through 2014, with an option for 2015