Yet Another 21 Year Old, Henderson Alvarez, Debuts for Jays

Henderson Alvarez was signed as an International free agent at age 16 by the Jays in 2006 and five years later, at 21, he will become the second 21 year old in less than a week to debut after Brett Lawrie made his debut for a suddenly youthful Jays team. Over his time in the Jays system, he has had ups and downs, but has pitched against older hitters the majority of the time and continuously proved that he could handle such a task. I wrote an article about Alvarez and his boost in stuff, particularly his velocity, earlier this year. Within that article is a key quote from Pete Walker which attributes the success Alvarez has had in 2011, after a lackluster 2010, to his increased velocity and depth on his pitches. Jared MacDonald and I has ranked him as the 13th best Jays prospect pre-2011 simply due to his getting hit a little harder than he had in the past while in Dunedin.

One reason Alvarez has been able to add some MPH to his pitches, now reaching the 96-98 MPH range and sometimes hitting 100 MPH, is that he has grown to reach 6’1″ and has added 5 lbs to his frame, now sitting at 195 lbs. Not only has his stuff reached new heights in velocity which allows him to throw more strikes with his usual no fear demeanor, but it has also enabled Alvarez to use his offspeed stuff more effectively by increasing the differential between those and his fastballs. It’ll be interesting to see what his velocity is like tonight, but I know one thing for certain: he’ll throw strikes because that’s what he does best. The question will then become, will hitters catch up to his stuff and pick the ball up well, or will he fool them?

As he got comfortable pitching in AA this season, after a short stint in Dunedin, it became more and more evident that he was doing very well and could possibly handle anMLB promotion. I still think it’s a little early since he did get hit quite a bit in AA, which tells me he may get hit harder in The Show. The evidence was most striking over his last 5 starts in AA, when Alvarez won 4 of those 5 starts with a 2.20 ERA in 32.2 IP, 34 HA, 4 BB, and 27 Ks. Then again, you never can really tell how a pitcher will do until they get their chance. Some who have dominated in the minors will fail to meet expectations, and some who struggled a bit will reach new heights when placed in the spotlight. I’m hoping that Alvarez is the latter, but will not be surprised if he is forced to the minors once again after a few starts in the majors.

There’s a chance that the Jays (including John Farrell and the entire pitching coaching staff) have already planned for that and simply want to see first hand what Alvarez brings to the table, knowing that they can return him to the minors if need be. This time, whether a great success or not, will serve as a great learning experience for Alvarez without the pressures that are associated with a fresh new season or a competitive time of the year. The Jays are not in a position to challenge for a playoff spot, so he can step up, throw his game as best he can, and not have to worry about spoiling the team’s chances to make a run. Basically, it becomes an audition for 2012 and exposes him to The Show in as presure free a situation as possible. Besides, is there a better lineup to make a debut against than the Oakland A’s of 2011? Maybe a few teams in the A.L. have a worse lineup right now, but they’re a fairly good way to get him some exprience without having him pitch against a club that is sitting at .500 or over.

The arrival of Henderson Alvarez marks the first of what should be many very young pitchers to make debuts over the next few years. It’ll be interesting to see who gets his spot in AA while he is in The Show, as the list of candidates includes Nestor Molina, Drew Hutchison, and Chad Jenkins. Those 3 pitchers and the recently promoted Deck McGuire are all great reasons for Alvarez to want to succeed since they’re all in contention for the same spots in the rotation and will be knocking on the door right behind him to earn a shot. I’m not going to bet on any of them to win spots in any certain roder, but all I know is that if one falters, there will be another waiting in the wings to grab his spot, and that’s great news for the franchise and its fans.

Jared will be putting out an article very soon that will touch on Alvarez and his future role with the Jays, so look for that soon.

Enjoy the game tonight folks. Not only do you get to watch the second 21 year old in a week make his debut for the Jays, indicating just how young the roster is getting, but you also get to watch what could be 20% of the rotation for a long time if he does as well as some expect over the next year.

 – MG

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