Name: Richard Alvarez
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: August 14, 1992
Acquired: 2008 International Free Agent
The first portion of this article originally appeared on August 18, near the end of Alvarez's first professional season. The original link can be found between the feature story and the scouting report. We were able to interview Alvarez through the translation of Michael Ortiz.
In recent years, the July 2 international signing date has become a big event for many baseball fans.
The Texas Rangers have acquired more than a handful of prospects—including Martin Perez and Wilmer Font—right around the July 2 signing period.
But not all of the players sign during the summer.
Right-hander Richard Alvarez, for instance, was not eligible to sign because he didn't turn 16 years old until August 14, 2008.
When he became eligible, the Rangers were eventually able to ink Alvarez, signing him for a bonus of approximately $800,000 on December 1st. Alvarez was arguably the club's most talented haul in last year's Latin market, but his signing wasn't covered because it occurred during the offseason.
Money clearly played a large factor in Alvarez's signing with Texas, but he also enjoyed the atmosphere around the organization.
"During the tryouts and that lengthy process," Alvarez said, through a translator, "I liked the feel of Texas' workouts and the people and the coaches. Everyone around it. It was more like a family and a team I could learn and grow with."
The vast majority of young Latin signees spend at least one season playing in the Dominican Summer League before they even see the Rangers' minor league complex in Surprise.
Each year, one or two elite talents skip the DSL entirely and go straight to Arizona.
Given Alvarez's hefty bonus, his assignment to Arizona shouldn't have been a shock. But having recently turned 16, he was one of the youngest professional baseball players in the United States.
Alvarez says the Rangers made that clear to him from the start.
"They told me when I signed that I would be one of the youngest guys, probably for the entire season, since I have such a late birthday," he said. "I wasn't scared. It's no big deal for me."
When most Latin players are brought to the Rangers' complex, it's their first visit to the United States.
Once again, Alvarez isn't most players. The Venezuela native actually starred in the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
"It was a good experience, and it was beautiful," said Alvarez. "It was the first time I'd ever been to the United States."
Alvarez performed well on the big stage, too.
"Back in those days, I was also a hitter," he explained. "I pitched against Curacao and shut them down. I also hit a grand slam in that game. And I pitched against Japan and hit a two-run home run."
The pitcher Alvarez faced from Curacao?
"The pitcher from Curacao that day just signed with Texas for more than a million dollars," he said. "They signed him as a shortstop. Jurickson Profar."
Alvarez actually saw Profar working out with the Rangers at their facility in the Dominican Republic in January.
It was the January program that helped the young hurler prepare for his first professional Spring Training.
"When I came to Spring Training, it was obviously my first so it was a big deal," Alvarez said. "But there were so many Latin guys that I knew from the January program and all that stuff in the fall in the Dominican, I had a great time and I didn't really have to adjust at all. I knew a lot of people."
Alvarez impressed onlookers at his first Spring Training, flashing the ability to throw all three of his pitches for strikes.
Near the end of his first professional season, Alvarez is still throwing strikes with above-average stuff. Although he has a 5.73 earned-run average in 33 innings, he has surrendered just 35 hits while walking 14 and striking out 27.
Alvarez turned 17 just last week. His results have been inconsistent—spectacular at times, rough at others. That's to be expected.
Overall, the prospect is happy with his first season.
"All year I've felt great," he said. "I've had a couple of innings where they've hit me pretty hard, but to me, all I want to do is attack and go after hitters.
"Sometimes you're going to get hit. As long as I keep throwing strikes, I'll have more quality outings than bad outings."
The weak link for Alvarez this season has been his usage of the 86-88 mph fastball. Alvarez has a tendency to shy away from his fastball when he begins giving up hits, but that's not uncommon for a young pitcher with advanced secondary stuff.
Alvarez is not likely to develop an overpowering fastball, but as he matures and gets stronger, he projects to work in the upper-80s and low-90s.
By far the most impressive aspects of Alvarez's game right now are his curveball and his changeup. In fact, the righty's curve may be even better than Martin Perez's at 16 years old. His changeup absolutely is.
"I always worked on my changeup," Alvarez said. "I knew that in order to be an effective pitcher at any level, you've got to have plus pitches besides your fastball. I feel that my changeup is definitely a plus pitch for me."
Down the line, Alvarez's changeup and curveball both profile as plus offerings. He also has a solid feel for pitching given his age and experience level.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect has just nine appearances on the AZL season, but he also logged a number of innings at Extended Spring Training.
With two starts remaining in his first professional campaign, Alvarez is looking for a strong finish.
"I want to stay where I'm at mentally and physically," he said. "I still feel confident even though it is late in the season and it's my first full-length season. I want to finish strong. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
Also See: Sizing up the right-handed starters (December 9, 2009)
Rangers Prospect Videos: Instructs and More (October 12, 2009)
Rangers Instructs Report (October 8, 2009)
Alvarez pitching beyond his years (August 18, 2009)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jayce Tingler (April 24, 2009)
Rangers minor league notes (March 19, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Alvarez is more of a projection guy with his fastball, and it's the only reason he sits so low on this top 50 list. Most days, Alvarez works between 86-88 mph with his fastball. He was around 84-86 at times, and he can also touch 90 mph. He spent nearly the entire 2009 season pitching in the U.S. as a 16-year-old, and he should add some velocity not only as he matures naturally, but also as he continues to work in the Rangers' strength program.
The right-hander could stand to be more aggressive with his fastball in games. With the AZL Rangers last season, he had a tendency to shy away from the heater at times––particularly in tough situations. That he tends to prefer his offspeed stuff isn't surprising given how advanced it is, but he still needs to work on using his fastball more often. Alvarez appeared to be working on attacking early and often with the fastball at Fall Instructional League.
Other Pitches: The prospect earned his lofty bonus largely because of his ability to throw two extremely promising offspeed pitches for strikes at a very young age. Most young Latin American prospects come in with good fastballs, but not much in the way of secondary stuff. Alvarez is the opposite. Though the fastball is a work in progress, his curveball and changeup should both be plus pitches down the line.
Alvarez spins a tight curveball that he can throw for strikes and also bury in the dirt when necessary––to chase strikeouts. As good as the breaking ball is, he may prefer his solid 77-79 mph changeup right now. He gets good deception with the pitch and he's able to throw it in any count to both left- and right-handed hitters. Alvarez's overall command can be a bit inconsistent, but he has a solid feel for how to pitch.
Projection: As previously mentioned, Alvarez is all about projection, particularly with his fastball. Though he doesn't have a whole lot of physical projection, he should still add a few ticks of velocity. With his promising offspeed stuff, he has the ability to develop into a mid-rotation starting pitcher down the line. The right-hander is mentally mature for his age, and he should be able to get the most out of his stuff. He'll likely be a mid-to-back rotation starter that slides through the system at about one level per season. At this point, it appears that his fastball and its improvement will ultimately decide his fate as a prospect.
2010 Outlook: Alvarez should be headed for Spokane this season, after spending the first half in Extended Spring Training. While Alvarez didn't post dominant results with the rookie-level AZL Rangers last summer, he more than held his own, particularly considering he was one of the very few 16-year-olds playing professionally in the U.S. at the time. It doesn't look like he'll need to repeat the rookie league, and it's highly unlikely that the Rangers will send their 17-year-old arm to full-season ball.
|2009||AZL Rangers (RK)||2-3||41.0||42||19||35||5.49|
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