After Noah Syndergaard comes another promising right-hander at No. 13 that many people forget is only 20 years old…
#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
Signed By: The Toronto Blue Jays as a non-drafted free-agent on Aug. 17, 2006
- 2010 Futures Game Selection
- 2010 Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star
- 2009 Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star
- 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)
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.