Abounding rumors that the Dodgers planned to blow past their slotted international budget in the July 2 window were proven true when the team signed Yadier Alvarez for $16 million dollars on the opening day of the period. The 19-year-old was blessed with rare arm talent but was a relative unknown from a performance standpoint. While it’s tempting to rate a pitcher with arguably two double-plus pitches higher than 12th in the system, we still await Alvarez’s professional debut, and he already lacked meaningful innings from his time in Cuba. As noted in the July 2 preview, Alvarez is "a high quality ball of clay," how he’s sculpted depends on the development staff and Alvarez’s ability to learn and make adjustments.
It’s obvious to see and read what Alvarez does well. The spindly 6’3, 175-pounder already has one of the organization’s best fastball-slider combos (recently losing the top spot to Frankie Montas). Alvarez has dialed the fastball up as high as 98 mph in showcases, showing run and looking like he has a fair amount of "rise" to go with it. his command is reportedly just average, and in just brief video looks, he’s still more of a thrower than pitcher with that pitch.
Alvarez has better command of his already above average slider, and it already flashes plus. The break is tight enough that he can throw it in the zone for strikes, or vary the break to get right-handers to chase away. His feel for spin is already advanced for his age, but he does show some release-point issues on video. The slider can be an easy plus pitch in the future with consistent high velocity and improvements in command.
Perhaps of greater interest with Alvarez is how easy his arm works to generate velocity. Alvarez has a fluid motion, though the arm action can be long, creating velocity so effortlessly. It’s that type of ease that makes many believe he will be an elite starter at his peak, needing little effort to produce plus stuff.
The work in front of Alvarez is fairly obvious. He has little mound experience and we have almost nothing to go on to evaluate his stamina and durability. Impressing in showcases is one thing, taking the ball every fifth day is a different hurdle to leap. Despite turning 20 before the season starts, Alvarez might have to delay his professional debut until short-season leagues, using the time in extended spring training to stretch out and acclimate himself to his new environment.
It often seems that players this young with this much present ability can have a limitless ceiling, and I could see equal parts front line starter or late inning reliever in Alvarez’s future. Does he pack on muscle, refine a third pitch, and hold his plus stuff across 90+ pitches? Does he fail to improve upon his command, his thin build wilt under a heavy workload, both driving him to the back of the pen with two plus to double plus pitches? Everything is seemingly in front of Alvarez, and we have yet to evaluate one professional pitch.
I expected that my ranking on Alvarez would be the most conservative, but most outlets have put him around the 10th-12th spot in their rankings too. The biggest issue, as mentioned, is that the unknowns are significant and the experience is not. 2016 should bring both issues closer together, and hopefully by the time it’s time to write the 2017 edition, we’ll have a better idea of the type of talent we have here, but expectations are that it’s immense.
I’ve delved carefully into ranking the new international signings, Omar Estevez and Yusniel Diaz. While my rankings of both players will likely be lower than most publications, remember my trepidation of rushing to ranking players without stateside experience too high too early.
Diaz slots in conservatively at number 23, with a traditional center field and leadoff profile. Diaz shows a loose swing, solid barrel control and a feel for hit. His plus speed should give him present gap power, and he has room in his build to add strength and potential upside for 10-15 home runs annually.
Reports suggest that Diaz can handle center just fine, and his speed should be an asset there. I’m not sure that the present offensive profile works in a corner spot, so if he can’t stay in center field he’s probably a fourth outfielder. His numbers were impressive in the Cuban League before defecting, but the league has obviously taken a hit with defections and suspensions, making me cautious to value them too highly.
Most video on Diaz is just a highlight reel of his hits in Cuba, so we don’t see the bad swings or times his weaknesses were exposed. Overall, he shows the tools to rank higher, but caution feels more prudent in situations like this. I would be surprised to see him start with a full season ball club, but if he does, he shouldn’t be skipping Great Lakes.
Estevez is even less projectable at this point. He’s listed at second base and he’s not the best looking athlete, so he’s already low on the defensive spectrum. He appears to have a solid feel for hit and the frame to develop average pop for the position, but he’s years away and awfully hard to project with the amount of information we have right now.