Height: 6’1″ Weight: 195
Henderson Alvarez, signed in 2006 as a 16 year old out of Venezuela, has become one of the premier pitching talents in the Blue Jays system. But it didn’t start out that way. After signing in 2006, Alvarez had a couple of seasons of +5.00 ERA totals which kept him off the prospect radar. But the underlying numbers told a bit of a different story. His 52 and 58 GB% rates from his first two years coupled with low walk rates and decent K rates, left room for the imagination to wonder. His +.360 BABIPs from those seasons confirmed that with a little velocity uptick there was probably a real talent hiding behind the final results. The talent we’re about to take a look at.
During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Alvarez, flashed an exciting fastball that topped out at 94 but widely ranged from 85-94mph causing some to wonder what he really was. His curve was below average but he did flash a potential plus changeup that already had movement, but he had little command of the pitch. In 2009 that changed. His fastball sat regularly in the low to mid 90s and peaked at 97. His changeup emerged as his best pitch with hard bite and his command continued to improve into a plus tool. He walked just 3.7% of batters he faced at Lansing that year while raising his K rate 2% over his debut season to 17.9%. His command has always led to high ground ball rates which limit his HR allowed.
2010 should have been Alvarez season to jump into the upper echelon of prospects, but a weakening K rate led to a 4.33 ERA which was validated by his 4.10 FIP. This came in the pitcher friendly FSL. So something was wrong. Or was it? His GB rates remained good and his walk rate, while a jump up from the season before, was still a stellar 5.4%. Alvarez new found velocity found him trying to over power hitters which took away from what made him successful and he left more pitch up in the zone.
This season things have again taken a step forward and those of us who mistakenly dropped Alvarez down a few rungs should be questioning our reasoning now. Alvarez has pretty much put it all together this season. His walk rate is still stellar and his ERA is a sparkling 2.86 at New Hampshire. His FIP is in the mid 3s but I’m not going to put a fault on that. Alvarez has seen his fastball velocity jump again with reports of him touching triple digits at times. His changeup is a plus to plus plus offering and while his curve is only average it’s a usable third offering. With his new found additional velocity kick and his feel for the changeup, Alvarez is not afraid to attack the strike zone and pitch to contact which is a trait that is difficult to teach and a trait often forgotten even by major league stars such as A.J. Burnett.
Not a ton to say about Alvarez overall mechanics. He has a twist in his windup that gives him deception but it doesn’t throw off the timing of his arm speed or drive to the plate. So there isn’t much here as far as injury risk to worry about. Normally the awkward twist in the delivery would hamper command, but Alvarez seems to do just fine in that area.
While Henderson Alvarez’ 2 plus pitch mix might indicate an eventual move to the back of the bullpen, I think that Alvarez, at least early on will get the chance to stick in the rotation and will take advantage. At 6’1″ and almost 200 lbs he has the frame to handle the workload of a starter. I don’t think we’re looking at front of the rotation stuff here. But that’s more because of the lack of the 3rd plus pitch. That could change with the tutelage of Ricky Romero available, especially since Romero is a pay it forward personality. If Alvarez can pair his Fastball/Change combo with an above average or better offering with the curveball he could handle the 2nd slot in the Blue Jays rotation. His ability to attack hitters and make short work put him in position to be an innings eater. I don’t think he’ll ever be a high K guy because of his aggressiveness in the zone but again, he can be very successful. He should have a good run the first time through the league. He’ll be an unknown with a not so average pitch mix and a slightly awkward twist in his delivery. The second time through he’s going to have to make adjustments when major league hitters realize that he’s going to pound the zone. Even with the excellent fastball movement and dominant changeup, hitters will adjust and make him pay with the long ball.
With his recent call up I’m going to say based on following Alvarez throughout the years that he’s ready for the Show. And he’ll be up for good. He’ll work through the ups and downs and learn on the fly. He’s an intelligent pitcher. With a nice pitch mix. The future is a little brighter in Toronto starting today.
Check back for the Prospect Instinct breakdowns for Arodyz Vizcaino, Garrett Richards, and James Darnell plus the NY-Penn League Touch’em All: Pitchers version. Thanks for checking into Baseball Instinct. Be sure to sign up for the our Prospect Email and check out our Prospect Video section.