So let’s start with the easy disclaimer. No one is knocking Vlad Jr. He’s one of the greatest prospect in recent times, and used as just a point of comparison. With that said, what Yordan Alvarez is doing is absolutely unheard of. So let’s take a look back to see how we got here today:
August 1st, 2016 - the Astros traded Josh Fields to the Dodgers for Yordan Alvarez. In the Crawfish Boxes article, which is always an interesting glimpse back through time, the commentary was almost universally positive. Surprisingly, our Dodgers sister site seemed equally excited about the trade.
At the time there was limited data on Alvarez, he had played across two season in Cuba’s La Serie Nacional, hitting .279/.342/.327, total which sounds unimpressive but remember this was a 16-17 year old in professional baseball. In his final season at age 17 his .351/.402/.387 line showed glimpses of the offensive prowess but still lacked the power that would become his calling card.
Scouts admired his build and believed the power would come. This was the quote that our own AstrosFuture had from Ben Badler in his article reviewing the trade,
“He has a simple lefthanded swing, drawing praise from scouts highest on him for his bat control and ability to manage the strike zone well for his age. While Alvarez never showed much power in Cuba, he has since earned average to above-average raw power grades from scouts who have followed him at workouts. Some evaluators said he sometimes struggles to tap into that power in games in part because he doesn’t always generate enough lift in his stroke (58 percent of his batted balls were groundballs during his final season in Cuba).”
Alvarez started his professional career with the Astros in 2016, hitting .341/.474/.500 in Rookie ball good for a 185 wRC+. He started 2017 in A ball hitting .360/.468/.658 for a 207 wRC+, but struggled after his promotion to a .277/.329/.393 triple slash for a 102 wRC+. After just 2 months in High A despite the struggles, the Astros aggressively promoted him to AA to start 2018 where in 43 games he hit .325/.389/.615 for a 168 wRC+. Alvarez had a hand injury causing him to miss a month and sapping his AAA numbers to start to a .259/.349/.452 line (111 wRC+). The encouraging sign was after he recovered from his hand injury he hit .419/.419/.839 across his last 31 at bats!
Yordan Alvarez has been named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week. Alvarez led all PCL hitters with a .591 batting average after notching a league-high 13 hits in 22 at-bats during six games last week. He also tallied two doubles and a home run, driving in eight.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) May 6, 2019
Here were some of the scouting reports on him after last season:
“Alvarez boasts a powerful lefty swing with improved loft and more than enough strength to muscle balls out to the opposite field. He has a keen eye in the box and has done well working counts and finding pitches to drive across the zone, utilizing the whole field. The big-bodied corner stick can get too passive at times, however, forcing himself to work from behind and expand the zone with his weakest contact coming on rolled-over grounders versus the soft stuff. Still, his approach is impressively advanced for a player of his age and with his level of reps, and the overall developmental trajectory bodes well for his future as a potential impact bat at the big-league level.” - 2080Baseball
John Sickles gave him a B+ with this to say: “looks like a pure hitter to me, one who makes adjustments well and should provide high batting averages and OBPs; with 6-5, 225 frame more power should come too; doesn’t run well enough to play center field and arm fits best in left but he should be a competent outfield defender and played errorless ball in 26 games at first base; grade assumes more power will come. ETA late 2019.”
AstrosFuture and Spencer had this to say: “The Astros got a steal in Alvarez when they acquired him from the Dodgers in a trade for Josh Fields. Alvarez had a breakout 2017 and continued to see his stock as a prospect rise in 2018. He got off to a great start hitting .299 with 8 2B, 6 HR, 26 RBI in his first 27 games but then missed about a month dealing with a hand injury. He came back in mid June and finished his time in AA hitting .325 with 12 HR, 46 RBI and 168 wRC+ in 45 games. He was promoted to AAA where he had a .801 OPS with 8 HR in 43 games (111 wRC+). Overall he had a 139 wRC+ as a 21 year old between AA and AAA. Alvarez is huge (6’5″, 225 lbs) but actually moves around really well. The Astros continue to play Alvarez and left and praise his work there, but many do project him to first base or DH. He has monster power and has improved his plate discipline. He was ranked the #34 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, but outside the top 100 by FanGraphs, demonstrating a wide range of opinions throughout the industry. Getting to his prodigious power more readily in games will be the biggest focus for Alvarez in the short term, alongside his enigmatic defense.”
Current ABSURD performance:
So that was a lot of background, now let’s get to the real story. This year, what Alvarez is doing is absolutely unheard of. His triple slash of .410/.497/.903 is mind blowing giving him a 1.400 OPS, and the 157 PA is not a small enough sample size to ignore.
From a pure power perspective, Yordan’s 17 Home Runs is a crazy pace. He’s hitting one essentially every other game! One every 7.88 AB - that’s a better pace than Barry Bond’s 73 home run season (1 every 9.09)!!
His wRC+ (a stat that rates players based on runs created and is adjusted to make 100 league average and takes ballparks into account) is a mind blowing 229.
That means he’s creating 2.29 runs for every run the average batter creates. The PCL is notoriously an offensive league (Alvarez has yet to hit in the easier ballparks to hit home runs in), but this stat that adjusts for that fact is saying he’s 129% better than your average player.
Now let’s add some context to this. Fangraphs has stats going back to 2006 for the PCL, and you can break it out per season. Alvarez’s 229 wRC+ is not just the best in the league today. It’s the best recorded wRC+ in PCL History since 2006! Repeating that, Yordan Alvarez is producing more than any player ever recorded in Fangraph’s history in the PCL.
But he isn’t narrowly edging out the competition. The next 5? 183, 177, 177, 175, 175. Meaning he’s 46% higher than even the second place person in the past 14 years!!!
Earlier today I had a scout tell me Yordan Alvarez is easily the best hitter he’s seen in his 3 years covering the PCL.— Alex Freedman (@azfreedman) May 3, 2019
In the first 3 games of this series, Alvarez is 8-for-10 with 5 extra-base hits and 7 RBI. Everything is barreled and on a line. #Astros
Comparing to Vlad Jr.
This is mainly an exercise for fun, Vlad was one of the most highly rated prospects in recent memory. Vlad also played in the International league, which does not have the same notorious reputation for being an offense driven league.
Vlad Jr. of course benefited from his father’s name in prospect rankings, but was no slouch throughout his career when it comes to batting, and doing it at a younger age than Alvarez.
From a pure numbers perspective, Alvarez stacks up well surprisingly well considering Vlad is one of the most dominant minor league hitters we’ve seen, although Alvarez has been less consistent. He seems to take a little longer to acclimate to new leagues, and it’s important to note that Alvarez was 20 months older at each and every one of these stops.
In truth there are some other statistics leaning in Vlad’s favor, his strikeout rate in the minors was never above 13.4%. Alvarez has made significant strides in improving in this regard, dropping back down under 20% (19.1%). Both players have had an excellent eye and walk rates, where Alvarez slightly outpaces Vlad. Vlad’s hit tool is rated significantly higher and for good reason.
Now for the caveats: Yordan is playing with the MLB baseball this year, which Guerrero did not have the benefit of doing other than his short stint in AAA to start the year. Yordan has an insanely high .437 BABIP and although he’s maintained over a .300, there’s some major regression that should be anticipated. (Though I doubt many people expect a .400 average).
Both are exciting young talents that have their value driven basically exclusively through their bats.
Yordan Alvarez last 162 MiLB games:— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) May 17, 2019
.316 BA/.383 OBP/.570 SLG, 41 2B, 39 HR, 150 RBI, 147 wRC+#Astros
So with everything said, I can’t honestly say that Yordan is better than Vlad Jr. Or even close. What I can say, is what he’s currently doing, Vlad Jr had never matched in his career, which is an absolute blast to watch.
I want to put a word of caution as we drool at his mesmerizing numbers imagining his power in Minute Maid Park. Vlad Jr through his first 66 at bats? .207/.303/.345, he’s 22% below a league average hitter at this point, and has accumulated a -0.2 WAR year to date. (In fairness, his .233 BABIP and his xwOBA outpacing his current wOBA by .039)Even the greatest of prospects can struggle as the jump to the majors is no joke.
I did a short article on Super 2 to help explain why Alvarez is not up as of yet. But his day is coming soon. Adding him to the most potent offense in baseball, and potentially the most potent in baseball history should bring every Astros fan joy.
We have the best team in baseball and prospects like this crushing the door down to get their call up. It’s a great time to be an Astros fan.