Now that the regular season is quickly approaching its third week, we’re finding out a bit more on a daily basis about why a handful of players in the Dodgers‘ system mysteriously disappeared from their normal roster statuses during the early phases of the 2017 campaign.
Righty phenom Walker Buehler was held back at extended spring training for a little over a week, non-roster invite Josh Sborz spent a little over two weeks in Glendale, and prized prospect Yadier Alvarez hung around Camelback Ranch for almost three weeks before finally making his debut against the Lancaster JetHawks on Monday.
And if the more dedicated fans dig hard enough, they’ll find that there were plenty more beginning their respective seasons in extended spring training, perhaps a ploy by management to utilize a new type of strategy in the development of some of the younger players. All this is happening while 20-year-old southpaw Julio Urias is still taking his turns in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City — something that fans didn’t expect to see until early May, after Urias was able to rest his arm in hopes of saving his fuel for the 2017 postseason.
Rumors were circulating in early spring whispering that Alvarez showed up to camp a bit out of shape and was sent to Glendale to tuneup for a brief time. Regardless, he did what was expected of him early, and finally made it to the bump to start a game for Rancho Cucamonga in the Cal League this week.
In the end, Alvarez’s debut was not pretty at all. He didn’t strikeout a single batter, which is extremely uncharacteristic of the 21-year-old righty. He ended up throwing 65 pitches over 2-1/3 innings, surrendering seven runs on nine hits, with two walks and two wild pitches in the Quakes’ 9-5 loss to Lancaster.
According to J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group, Alvarez’s fastball sat in the 93-96 MPH range in the first frame, and drifted down to the 90-92 range by the beginning of the third inning. Last season, Alvarez was clocked in the triple digits on more than one occasion. Yet while his initial performance of the 2017 season was indeed a bit gloomy, all signs point to the young Cuban regaining his form quickly during his next few turns in the Rancho rotation.
For the fans of the Dodgers who may be unfamiliar with Alvarez, he’s currently ranked as the second best prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline. Between Rookie League and Low-A Great Lakes last season, he posted a 4-3 record with a 2.12 ERA and a 12.3 K/9 over 59-1/3 innings of work.
When we initially took a glance at Alvarez in December of 2015, he didn’t have much of a track record in terms of organized baseball, and it remained somewhat of a mystery the exact type of skill set he would bring along with him to the farm. Now that he’s beginning to progress through the lower levels of the minors, reports from many of the scouts have been outstanding.
As far as his repertoire, Alvarez features a four-seamer that varies in velocity in the 94-100 MPH range. His slider is by far his best breaking pitch, often being clocked around 20 MPH slower than his fastest heater. His change and curveball are still in the developmental stages, but were already beginning to show promise with the Loons and in the Arizona League.
People who follow Alvarez closely believe that he could make an impact as a reliever early in his career, yet many of the pundits see his best potential as a starter, so long as he continues to sharpen his command. Some scouts have even uttered a conceivable ceiling of a No. 2 starting pitcher.
Having just turned 20-years-old in March, he’s still in need of some time to fill out his lanky 6’3″ frame, yet if he stays on course and consistently improves his pitching control, Alvarez may zip through the High-A level this year and conceivably see limited time with Double-A Tulsa by season’s end.
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