Top 50 Jays Prospects, Jays Journal Edition: #13 Henderson Alvarez


After Noah Syndergaard comes another promising right-hander at No. 13 that many people forget is only 20 years old…

Image courtesy of Batter's Box

#13: Henderson Javier Alvarez

Pitcher / 20 years old / 6′0″ 190 lbs

Born: April 18th, 1990 in Valencia, Venezuela

Bats: Right    Throws: Right

High School: N/A

College: N/A

Signed By: The Toronto Blue Jays as a non-drafted free-agent on Aug. 17, 2006

Quick Facts:

  • 2010 Futures Game Selection
  • 2010 Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star
  • 2009 Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star

Career Statistics:

Year Age Level W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9
2007 17 DOSL 1 2 5.61 8 7 25.2 36 16 0 8 20 1.714 12.6 2.8 7.0
2008 18 GCL 1 4 5.63 12 11 46.1 63 29 3 6 34 1.489 12.2 1.2 6.6
2009 19 A 9 6 3.47 23 23 124.1 121 48 1 19 92 1.126 8.8 1.4 6.7
2010 20 A+ 8 7 4.33 23 21 112.1 137 54 10 27 78 1.460 11.0 2.2 6.2

Dunedin Blue Jays Team Stats Ranking for Henderson Alvarez:

  • 1st in home runs allowed (10)
  • 2nd in losses (7), hits allowed (137), earned runs (54), and hit batters (7)
  • 3rd in wins (8), starts (21), and innings pitched (112.1)
  • 5th in walks (27) and strikeouts (78)

Interviews/Video:

A 2009 interview with Alvarez, through a translator, with Lansing Lugnuts announcer Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:

Extra information and previous experience:

Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2006 at the tender age of 16, Henderson Alvarez has been a name most Jays fans have known for a while now, and he’ll turn only 21 in April.

After working out for the Jays in Venezuela and throwing in the high 80s as a 16-year-old, Alvarez was impressive enough to be offered a contract, and made his debut with the Jays organization in the Dominican Summer League in 2007.

Alvarez only made 7 starts, totaling 25.2 innings, in the DSL that year, giving up 16 earned runs (5.61 ERA) and 36 hits (12.6 H/9). The Blue Jays liked what they saw from him though, and sent Alvarez to the Gulf Coast League in 2008 after a relatively small sample size in the DSL.

Alvarez wound up having similar results in the GCL, pitching 46.1 innings in 11 starts and giving up 29 earned runs and 63 hits (12.2 H/9). Alvarez did show signs of improvement though, as he walked less batters than he did in the DSL in 2007, despite pitching almost twice as many innings, and his 3.35 FIP was a stark contrast to his 5.63 ERA that season.

The Blue Jays were so high on Alvarez that they opted to have him skip a stint with their short-season affiliate Auburn Doubledays and instead throw him right into full-season ball with Class-A Lansing. That decision turned out to be perfect for Alvarez, as his 2009 season with Lansing as a 19-year-old was his breakout season.

While Alvarez’s numbers in the rookie leagues were not spectacular, his struggles were primarily due to the mental side of the game. Alvarez had to adjust to life in the United States in 2008, and he tended to overthrow and start to crumble mechanically at times on the mound, especially when there were runners on base.

That all changed with Lansing in 2009, when Alvarez started to throw strikes more consistently and thrived getting into a routine of taking the ball every fifth day on a longer season schedule.

Overall with Lansing in 2009, Alvarez nearly tripled his innings from the year before, going 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 23 starts, giving up 121 hits, 48 earned runs, and only 1 home run in 124.1 innings, striking out 92 and walking 19. Alvarez benefited from a Spanish-speaking pitching coach in 2009, and Baseball America awarded Alvarez with the best control and best changeup in the Jays’ system at the end of the 2009 season.

Alvarez was successful in 2009 because he routinely kept the ball low in the strike zone while attacking hitters, making it very hard for them to get it off of the ground. His fastball was between 86 and 92 mph, with the ability to touch 94, but his most dominant weapon was his changeup. The velocity of it throughout the year was higher than most changeups, around 86-88 mph, but its’ movement is really what made hitters look foolish. Some said the changeup looked more like a screwball with such good, late action at the plate, and considering how comfortable Alvarez was throwing it to both LHB and RHB, it was easy to see why it was his favorite pitch to throw.

Alvarez was impressive in his season with Lansing in 2009, but he definitely had an extensive list of things to improve on with Hi-A Dunedin in 2010.

Alvarez toyed with a three-quarters breaking ball in 2009 as a third pitch – something that is essential in order to be successful in the higher levels of the minor leagues – but he needed to develop it into a true plus pitch, either as a slider or curveball. He also needed to broaden the velocity gap between his fastball and changeup, while adding some weight to his then-6’0″, 175 pound frame.

Alvarez addressed all of those things in 2010, even if his statistics didn’t look spectacular. Statistically, Alvarez went 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA in 21 starts in his first season with Hi-A Dunedin, giving up 137 hits (11.0 H/9), striking out 78 (6.2 K/9) and issuing 27 walks (2.2 BB/9) in 112.1 innings. He pitched 12 innings less than he did in 2009, and gave up a career-high 10 home runs.

Away from the stat sheet, Alvarez added 2-3 mph to his four-seam fastball, which made it routinely hit 92-94 mph and touch 98. He tweaked the grip on his devastating changeup – ranked best in the Blue Jays’ minor league system by Baseball America at the end of the 2010 season – which helped take a bit of speed off of it, effectively broadening the velocity gap between it and his four-seam fastball. He bulked up to 190 pounds, continued to pound the lower half of the strike zone, and field his position very well.

Alvarez became more confident with his breaking ball as well, and Dunedin manager Clayton McCullough discussed that exact thing with Baseball America early in the 2010 season.

“Last year his breaking ball was just a work in progress. He sees the value of it, the importance of getting that third pitch to be a starter up the ladder. Having a viable breaking ball is something he’s going to need, and it’s nice to see him trusting it in his outings much more this year. This year’s he’s throwing his breaking ball in situations he never would have last year.”

Alvarez also logged 10 starts in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2010, logging a 2.13 ERA in 42.1 innings, giving up 39 hits and striking out 27.

Expected 2011 Team: Double-A New Hampshire

Ultimate ceiling if he puts it all together: #3 starter

Alvarez made considerable improvements in 2010, and his FIP has been lower than his ERA in all of his professional seasons, but he still gave up more hits than innings pitched and opponents hit .300 off of him this past season. Some scouts wonder why he doesn’t get more strikeouts, considering he has a plus fastball and a plus changeup.

Alvarez will be only 21-years-old in 2011, and his above-average control sometimes gets the worst of him because he pounds the zone with strikes almost TOO much, to the point where hitters have too many hittable pitches rather than pitches to chase outside of the zone.

Alvarez continues to impress with his overall demeanor, and he will definitely work as hard as he can to improve even more next year at Double-A New Hampshire.

-JM

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  • Mylegacy

    I always wondered – when he was just a little tiny baby and his mother looked into his cute squinty eyes (all babies seem to be squinting) – whatever came over her as she said – “This kid looks like his first name should be Henderson.” Where did that name come from?

    As to his baseball skills. I remain intrigued. After the 2008 season – when his stats were – ifish – I heard a Jay’s official say that notwithstanding the results…”this is a kid to watch.” He still is.

    2011 is a big year for him. Time to see if he can begin to take that step from “good” control to “good” command. Steven Ellis – a pitching coach – describes Control as “being able to throw strikes” and having “Command” as being able to throw strikes to specific parts of the strike zone.” When – if – he masters “Command” then we’ll know what we’ve got here. I think – the guy is gonna be a very sweet pitcher. At least middle of the rotation or if not then very likely power closer.

    Just another of SO MANY interesting guys to watch this season.

  • mutton chops

    nice to see FIP getting some cred, nice write-up.

  • FenixL

    Its irritating to see a guy with his stuff only strike out the amount of people he does. He should be raking up K’s, but sadly he isnt. I dont really know if its because of his control, and him constantly pounding the zone. I think it may be because of his immaturity issues. Its been well documented that hes a baby, and thats what he needs to work on.

    If he can ever get his head straight he could be a helluva pitcher, but i am unsure he’ll ever get everything to click. Hes only turning 21 so there is hope.

  • Mat Germain

    I’ll echo what FenixL said, it’s a little frustrating to not get Joel Carreno type results in terms of Ks, but with some better preparation and maturity he should be able to get better results. The stuff is there and getting better, so now it’s just a matter of the catchers and others calling a game that makes the most use of his tools. He needs to miss a little lower in the zone when he does miss, instead of above the knees. If that happens, he’ll be a fast mover in 2011.

  • aarne13

    H.Alvarez is 3 years younger than Carreno and has already caught up to him. Henderson is still very young and will struggle at times. But with more experience he should be able to take advantage of his FB-CU combo. Carreno’s K-rate didn’t take off until 2010 in his 5th yr of pro-ball.

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