Jays Prospect Profile: RHP Henderson Alvarez

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Henderson Javier Alvarez was born in Valencia Venezuela on April 18th 1990, measures 6’0″ and weighs 190 lbs. That means he will turn 20 years old early on in the 2010 season and will pitch the majority of the season in either HiA Dunedin or AA New Hampshire, after making the jumps from the DSL, GCL, and LoA Lansing during the past 3 seasons. He’s a right handed pitcher with 3 average to above average pitches and could develop at least 1 more this season.

Alvarez throws a good fastball at 89-94 MPH on a consistent basis. Baseball America commend his ability to generate great arm speed when using his change up which they grade as his best pitch, which bodes well for his chances to keep MLB hitters off rhythm should he make it to the show. They also add that he uses a 3/4 breaking ball but that it needs some work to become a slider in order to be effective against better hitters. It seems to me that, having been a long time BA reader, some of their scouting can be biased towards “big framed” pitchers who have what they would call the perfect pitcher’s frame and that it could be one reason their rankings usually help those out while they can miss on others. BA would also add things about pitching on a downhill plane and say that it helps them to create deception and to have a closer release point. All of these things work against Alvarez being effective as a big leaguer. They also state that Alvarez will need to locate his pitches in order to be effective because he doesn’t have dominating speed on his fastball. Really? How many starters work at 95 MPH or more in MLB? Not many, so I’d say that Alvarez will be fine at 92-94 MPH and that he will probably add some speed as he gets older. Still, as ALL pitchers need to do, Alvarez will need to locate his pitches effectively and will definitely need to rely on his great change up.

Last season was a breakthrough for Alvarez for more than 1 reason (performance), it was also a breakthrough season in innings pitched. He jumped from only 25.2 during his season in the DSL (2007) to 46.1 during his season in the GCL (2008) and finally to 124.1 in LoA last season (2009). Could it be that Alvarez just got comfortable on the mound because he finally got the innings he needed to do well? I would say yes, and that he got stronger as the season wore on. The Jays limited his innings in 2009 at that point in August for fear that he’d injure himself, but it certainly wasn’t due to lack of performance. During his last 10 games Alvarez threw 52.1 innings, struck out 49 and walked only 8, and held a 2.92 ERA. If you take into account that he progressively got better as the season wore on, you have to be looking for great things from Alvarez in 2010.

The Bad part for Alvarez is that he gets knocked around a bit by left-handed hitters, who compiled a .256 average against him and accounted for a 4.15 ERA on that side. That compares to right-handed hitters who averaged .246 against him and accounted for a 2.99 ERA . He also seems to have a hard time pitching at night, compiling a 4.18 ERA at night versus a striking 1.59 ERA during the day. Again, his second half was much better than the first, with the post all-star game stats holding up as: 4 – 1, 2.66 ERA, 47.1 IP, 42 Ks, 7 BB, 41 HA. Another little know stat that strikes me as improving for Alvarez is his Ground Out to Air Out Ratio. Pre All-Star game he had a 1.24 GO/AO ratio, followed by a 1.53 ratio thereafter. This tells me that Alvarez got more comfortable in getting hitters to ground out and was more effectively locating his pitches low in the zone. This is a very important skill for him as he advances since we all know, from watching Doc Halladay, that getting guys to ground out consistently is more effective for starters than trying to pile up the strike outs.

For many of the reasons listed above, and also because of the clear improvement in performance as he gains experience, I expect great things from Alvarez in 2010. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in AA at some point and do believe that he’ll be much better than what BA rates him as, which is a #4 starter. I see him more in the #3 role as a Jonathan Sanchez style pitcher who can keep guys off balance all game long. Jays fans have a lot to look forward to in the near future, and hopefully Alvarez joins Chad Jenkins, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, and Marc Rzepczynski in forming one outstanding rotation by 2012.

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