Now that all minor league baseball has ceased, some of us have trouble finding that silver lining when the Astros lose, or when the A’s win. If the MLB team in Houston weren’t so great, we’d probably be spending a lot more time soaking up this hugely successful season.
Even though he’s a consensus top 100 prospect (#41 on MLB, #47 on Fangraphs, #36 on MinorLeagueBall, #62 on BA preseason) there hasn’t been that much love for Yordan Alvarez. Perhaps we’ve grown skittish over left-handed, bat-first, LF/1b types. But Alvarez proved a lot in 2018, a fact that’s well worth remembering
We happily recall that Alvarez was the return for Josh Fields. May every 9th-best reliever on the team yield a prospect like this! And young Alvarez, who was 19 when he debuted for Quad Cities in 2017, tore up the league. Then he got promoted to the Carolina League, where his power disappeared and he was league-average over 58 games.
Fast-forward to 2018, when Alvarez showed up at spring training and looked like a man among boys in the late innings of early March games. The Astros took a risk sending a raw 20 year-old to the Texas League, given how middling his performance was at Buies Creek. Yet over 43 games, Alvarez crushed it, slashing 325/389/615, and hitting 12 bombs. Only injury slowed him down, and although I did not get to watch him hit during my trip to Springfield in late-May, he did sign a baseball for my kids. I saw him in the lobby the next day: one big dude!
After sitting out six weeks, Alvarez returned June 17, crushed the Texas League some more, got to the legal drinking age, made the Futures Game, and went to Fresno after the All-Star break.
In 45 games in the PCL, Alvarez came back to earth a bit, slashing 259/349/452, good for a wRC+ of 111. His ISO dropped nearly 100 points, from an ungodly .290 to a respectable .193. His BABIP was also way down. Alvarez walked slightly more, and kept the K rate steady, at 24.9% These stats do not include the playoffs, when he hit .400 in 5 games against El Paso, but got injured in the first game of the finals against Memphis, and sat out the final three games.
Alvarez drew a double-digit walk rate across two levels this year. His power is so easy and goes to all fields. He runs well for his size, but may not be able to stay in LF given his size/age. MLB gives him a 45 run and a 50 field, but that may be generous. The body and athleticism remind me of a left-handed Domingo Santana. The 55 power grade on MLB is definitely light (Fangraphs gives him a 65). Longenhagen on Fangraphs is generally light with praise, but in June called Alvarez “remarkably athletic and twitchy for his size,” and “a potential middle-of-the-order force.”
2019 will be a big year for Alvarez. A strong spring and a fast start in Round Rock will certainly put pressure on the LF/DH/1b position, if there are struggles. Fellow Cuban Gurriel isn’t getting younger, and I doubt the Astros will simply hand LF to Tony Kemp. Fisher and JD Davis would seem to be ahead of Alvarez on the depth charts, but Alvarez may be too good to keep down for all of 2019. Alvarez also needs to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.
It’s not unreasonable to dream on a lineup like this in ten months: 1. Springer 2. Altuve 3. Tucker 4. Bregman 5.. Correa 6. Alvarez 7. Gurriel 8. Stasi 9. Kemp/Reddick.