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Dodgers 2018 top prospects: No. 7, Yadier Alvarez

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Yadier Alvarez
Yadier Alvarez had a 3.55 ERA in seven starts with Double-A Tulsa in 2017.
Photo credit: Rich Crimi | Tulsa Drillers

The kid gloves finally came off of Yadier Alvarez’s handling in 2017, but the results were largely mixed. While Alvarez earned a promotion to Double A tulsa, he battled the shape and control of his fastball for much of the season. While some of the luster has fallen off this once bright star, Alvarez still boasts some of the best natural arm talent in the organization and the Dodgers have the time to await his development. Nevertheless, his hold on a top-10 spot is tenuous in 2018 as Alvarez works to refine his fastball and shed the “future reliever” status from his profile.

The crown jewel of Los Angeles’ 2015 international signing spree, Alvarez has been moved quite cautiously through the system up to 2017. He was freed to throw 92 innings between High-A and Double-A last year and experienced adversity for the first time on a professional mound. What made Alvarez such a highly sought after arm still remains in tact, and that is that no prospect in the Los Angeles system can generate velocity as easy as Alvarez can.

Getting that velocity to do what he wants proved to be a challenge for him, especially in Double-A. Alvarez pitched with natural cut on his fastball but the inconsistency of the movement made it too hard for him to control the pitch in the zone, while also making it difficult to move the ball in on right handers. He appeared to make some adjustments to limit the cut, but the end product thus far has been a straight fastball that’s far too hittable at the upper levels.

Alvarez could dial it up to 98 mph when needed, but sat back between 94-96 mph too often in hopes of improving his command. Hitters in Double-A could see it out of hand fairly easily, as I recorded few swing throughs on the pitch in games I attended. Still, the velocity is there for him to turn it around, and any arm side movement or rise gained could completely transform the pitch.

Where Alvarez needs little development is in his slider. He could throw it in the upper 80’s with hard bite and few Double-A hitters handled the pitch well. It’s an easy plus swing and miss pitch, and should he move to the bullpen, will likely be his go-to offering. The pitch at times resembles a spike curveball, but Alvarez controls the pitch surprisingly well.

The change up is much further behind the other offerings and could be another reason his future is in the pen. He spent most of his time trying to establish the fastball that he used the change up sparingly. When I did see, it was was rather firm and straight and command was poor.

Working in Alvarez’s favor for future development is his athleticism. He repeats his mechanics well for the most part, though at times he will wrap around the fastball, giving it more cut. His arm action is loose and easy and the ball will jump out his hand at the top of his velocity band. His high ¾ slot is good for the shape on his breaking ball, he now just needs to find a grip that will help turn that arm speed into fastball movement.

Despite fastball issues, Alvarez did largely suppress fly balls, holding a 53% ground ball rate and just four home runs allowed last season. His slider plays a big role in generating ground outs, and he would likely use the pitch more often if he wasn’t focusing on the development of his fastball. Should the Dodgers eventually move him to relief, I’d expect to see his pitch usage change to that effect, and with that his strikeout rate would also likely climb.

Though 2017 was frustrating considering the hype around Alvarez, it’s far too early to panic. Alvarez had little high level exposure and game experience prior to his signing in 2015 and thus far has only pitched a season’s worth (151) of innings professionally. Growing pains with a pitcher this raw could have been expected, even if that growth is needed in the upper levels of the system. Alvarez will have just turned 22 to start the 2018 season, and didn’t exactly flop statistically last season.

I expect Alvarez to return to the Tulsa rotation in 2018, with the focus still being on establishing the fastball. That is the key to unlocking the rest of the starter profile. Even without big gains, he’s shown the ability to dominate with his plus breaking ball and could see a big league future in the bullpen. While we may need to temper the expectations that came with a $16 million dollar signing bonus, it’s also important to recognize when an inexperienced player is dealing with professional struggles for the first time.

2018 top Dodgers prospects

RK NAME POS OD AGE LEVEL OVERALL RISK CEILING PROS CONS
RK NAME POS OD AGE LEVEL OVERALL RISK CEILING PROS CONS
7 Yadier Alvarez RHSP/RP 22.01 AA 60 45 65 swing and miss SL, consistently + velo, loose arm poor command, FB doesn't miss bats, relief profile
8 Dustin May RHSP 20.07 HiA 55 45 65 electric arm, high spin rate FB and BB, polished arm slot lower, easier on LHH, needs strength
9 Will Smith C/2B 23.00 AA 55 50 55 + athlete for C, excellent plate discipline, defense offensive production can fluctuate, atypical C build
10 Mitchell White RHSP/RP 23.03 AA 55 45 60 high K potential, chance for + SL and CT, FB Velo injury history, command wavers, poss. reliever
11 Yusniel Diaz CF/RF 21.06 AA 55 50 55 improved swing for pop potential, arm, defensive pot. in game power lagging, tweener profile
12 Cristian Santana 3B 21.01 LoA 55 40 65 excellent build, loose athlete, chance for + power long swing, chance for swing and miss, raw
13 Edwin Rios 3B/1B 23.11 AAA 55 45 60 big raw power, strong, productive hitter, arm strength avg bat speed, fringy at 3rd, mistake hitter
14 Starling Heredia LF/RF 19.02 LoA 55 35 70 man-child physique, huge raw power, upside still raw at the plate, serious swing and miss
15 Morgan Cooper RHSP 23.06 NA 55 50 55 good frame, + BB with BB manipulation, production injury history, longer arm action, ceiling more #3
16 Gavin Lux SS 20.04 LoA 55 50 55 should stick at SS, athletic, plate discipline at age overall offensive ceiling, some hit struggles early
17 Jordan Sheffield RHSP/RP 22.10 HiA 55 45 60 electric arm, + present fastball and CV, athletic production doesn't match stuff, likely reliever
18 Imani Abdullah RHSP 20.11 LoA 55 45 60 excellent frame, upside, feel for spin on CB 17 a redshirt year, limited exposure, little stiff
19 Kyle Farmer C/3B 27.07 MLB 50 50 45 good feel for hit, offensive profile at C, utility more productive bench bat then starter, age
20 Caleb Ferguson LHSP 21.09 HiA 50 45 50 K production, 3 pitch mix, command, feel for spin upside more mid rotation, maxed out frame
21 Connor Wong C/2B 21.10 LoA 50 45 50 versatile talent, good athlete for a C, solid power prod some swing and miss, build not projectable
22 Josh Sborz RHSP/RP 24.03 AA 50 45 50 high floor, command of three pitches, competitive stuff has backed up this season, likely reliever
23 James Marinan RHSP 19.06 ROK 50 40 55 projectable frame, flashes + SNK, chance for +CH slurvy BB, more middle than upper rotation upside
24 Devin Smeltzer LHSP 22.08 HiA 50 45 50 high pitchability, 3 pitch mix, throws nothing straight fringe avg velo, 4th or 5th starter ceiling
25 Matt Beaty 1B/LF 24.11 AA 50 45 50 excellent feel for hit, career production, game pop limited ceiling, future defensive home
26 Andrew Sopko RHSP 23.08 AA 50 50 45 3 pitch mix, pitchability, command, deceptive velo can be fringy, bottom rotation upside
27 Ariel Sandoval CF/RF 22.05 HiA 50 35 60 livey athlete, raw power, arm, 2nd half production too raw at plate, noisey set-up, high swing and miss
28 Tim Locastro SS/2B/CF 25.09 AAA 50 45 45 good bat to ball skills, high steal rate, versatile fringe pop, stretched at SS and CF, upside
29 JT Chargois RHRP 27.04 AAA 50 40 55 heavy life on SNK, GB ability, arm strength limited track record, long injury history, age
30 Jake Peter 2B/SS 24.11 AAA 50 45 45 fluid LH swing, arm strength, versatile utility/bench upside, ? on overall pop
31 Yaisel Sierra RHRP 27.01 AAA 50 40 50 good velo, SL will flash +, quick arm command, incon. release, FB can be straight
32 Wilmer Font RHSP/RP 27.10 MLB 50 40 50 excellent K production, rise on FB, + SL age, previous command issues, upside
33 Ibandel Isabel 1B 22.09 HiA 50 30 60 ++ raw power, physical build, strength huge swing and miss, poor defender, raw
34 Mitchell Hansen CF/RF 21.11 SS 45 40 55 chance for 5 tools, upside, projectable frame struggling to break full season, swing and miss
35 Errol Robinson SS 23.06 AA 45 45 50 smooth infield actions, throwing arm, solid athlete better long speed than SB threat, off. ceiling
36 Johan Mieses RF/CF 22.09 AA 45 40 55 impressive arm, defensive ceiling, raw power serious swing and miss concerns
37 Omar Estevez 2B/SS 20.01 HiA 45 40 55 added defensive versatility, some feel for hit production stagnated at Hi A, power potential
38 Donovan Casey CF/RF 22.01 SS 45 45 50 twitchy athlete, production, solid bat to ball skills ceiling more 4th OF than starter, power ceiling
39 Edward Paredes LHRP 31.06 MLB 45 45 45 K production, tough on LHH, + SL age, one pitch reliever, LOOGY upside
40 Rob Segedin 3B/LF 29.05 MLB 45 45 45 hit vs lefties, gets most of tools, avg pop bench bat upside, limited defender, upside
41 Drew Jackson SS/2B 24.09 AA 45 40 50 elite athlete, + to ++ speed and arm strength offense improving but limited ceiling, utility upside
42 Wills Montgomerie RHSP/RP 22.10 LoA 45 40 50 spin rate, durable build, flashes + velo and CV uneven production, command wavers
43 Cody Thomas RF 23.06 LoA 45 35 55 great build, good athlete, chance for above avg pop still raw, swing and miss concerns
44 Jesen Therrien RHRP 25.00 AAA 45 45 45 SL flashes +, good command and K production TJ wipes out '18. middle relief/ROOGY upside
45 Carlos Rincon RF 20.06 SS 45 35 55 big raw power, physical upside, bat speed pretty raw offensively, serious swing and miss
46 Kyle Garlick CF/RF/LF 26.02 AA 45 45 45 productive, feel for hitting, avg pop 4th outfielder profile, age, fringe speed
47 Luke Raley LF/RF 23.06 HiA 45 40 50 muscular build, chance for above avg pop just avg bat speed, possible swing and miss
48 Luis Paz 1B/C 21.09 SS 45 40 50 power production, bat speed, strong build ? on ultimate defensive home, avg athlete
49 Riley Ottesen RHRP 23.05 LoA 45 40 50 good velo, will flash + SL, arm speed poor college production, likely reliever only
50 Rylan Bannon 3B 21.11 SS 45 45 45 college/pro production, good feel for hit, game pop skills over tools, ceiling, possible utility upside
51 Leo Crawford LHSP 21.01 LoA 45 40 50 solid production, command of 3 pitch mix fringe velo, not as projectable, likely back end
52 Zach Reks LF/RF 24.05 HiA 45 45 45 feel for hit, on base skills, productive - power, age, 4th OF profile
53 Romer Cuadrado LF/RF 20.08 SS 45 35 55 excellent frame, chance for + raw power development lagging behind age, swing and miss
54 Ryan Moseley RHRP 23.06 LoA 45 40 50 chance for ++ snk, big groundball potential struggles with command, results don't match stuff
55 Jared Walker 3B/RF 22.02 LoA 45 40 50 + size/athleticism combo, chance for hit/power, + arm raw, buggy whip swing, error prone in IF
56 Zach Pop RHRP 21.06 NA 45 40 50 good life/velo combo on FB, solid build, poss. CH mid relief profile, SL loses shape in low slot
57 Corey Copping RHRP 24.03 AA 45 45 45 good SL, bulldog mentality, decent production FB velo avg to fringe, middle relief ceiling
58 Shea Spitzbarth RHRP 23.06 AA 45 45 45 agressive mound demeanor, arm strength, CV middle relief upside, maxed out frame, size
59 Layne Somsen RHRP 28.10 AA 45 45 45 tough overhead BB, production, athletic limited mid relief ceiling, age, avg FB velo
60 Tony Gonsolin RHRP 23.11 HiA 45 40 50 arm speed, flashes + SL, solid K production lithe build, not quite late relief upside
61 Alfredo Tavarez RHSP/RP 20.04 LoA 45 35 50 king sized frame, arm strength, K production still raw mechanically, repeating arm slot, command
62 Aneurys Zabala RHRP 21.03 LoA 45 40 50 will flash ++ arm strength, some feel for spin relief profile, command, limited physical upside
63 Michael Boyle LHSP 23.11 HiA 45 40 45 pitch movement, pitchability, 3 pitches no plus pitch, fringy velo, #5 starter/swingman
64 Jefrey Souffront 2B/3B 20.11 ROK 45 35 50 some feel for hit, quick bat, mature plate approach distance from the majors, build not projectable
65 Jacob Amaya SS/2B 19.02 ROK 45 35 50 chance to stick at SS, good athlete, some feel for hit distance from majors, offensive ceiling
66 Ronny Brito SS 19.00 SS 45 35 50 infield actions, long athlete, chance to hit ? on overall offensive potential, far from majors
67 Logan Crouse RHRP 21.04 LoA 45 35 50 size, projectability, athleticism in delivery, arm action Fringy present velo, lots of projection left
68 Chris Mathewson RHSP/RP 21.10 HiA 45 40 45 SNK/SL mix, solid production, command back of rotation, middle relief upside, fringe velo
69 Adam Bray RHSP 24.11 HiA 45 40 45 durability, feel for spin, good command fringe starter upside, upside, avg K potential
70 Brian Moran LHRP 29.06 AA 40 40 45 funk in delivery, tough in LHH, K potential limited ceiling, fringe velo, age
71 Nolan Long RHRP 24.02 HiA 40 40 45 long frame, athletic for size, FB flashes + long levers to control, command, likely reliever
72 Mike Ahmed 1B/3B 26.02 AA 40 40 45 productive in '16, swing plane, avg pop bat speed, age, limited upside
73 Nathan Witt RHRP 21.11 ROK 40 35 50 good build, projectable, arm strength project arm, distance from majors, relief upside
74 Travis Taijeron LF/RF 29.02 AAA 40 40 45 good career power production, physical build age, defensive upside, swing and miss concern
75 Jacob Scavuzzo LF 24.02 AAA 40 40 45 solid tool profile, still a chance for upside game going backward, struggling hit tool
76 Max Gamboa RHRP 22.04 ROK 40 35 50 excellent arm strength, + to ++ velo, good frame production does not match stuff, incon. SL
77 Dean Kremer RHRP 22.03 HiA 40 40 45 decent athleticism and frame, K production, sink on FB was hit hard in HiA. Homer prone, no + pitch
78 Moises Perez 2B 20.08 LoA 40 40 45 loose athlete, some feel for hit offensive ceiling, lower on defensive spectrum
79 Isaac Anderson RHSP/RP 24.07 HiA 40 40 45 versatile arm, some SNK on FB, avg SL no plus or above avg tool, low ceiling, taxi arm