GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In his fourth professional season after signing out of Cuba, pitcher Yadier Alvarez remains an enigma to the Dodgers.
He can be found almost every day this Spring Training on the far bullpen mound, with a rubber contraption linking his right hip to his ankle, having his delivery cleaned up by a group of coaches and trainers in the belief that bad mechanics led to early arm soreness.
The Dodgers don’t seem sure what to make of Alvarez, other than he still has the live arm for which they paid a life-changing bonus of $16 million, with a matching penalty for surpassing international signing limits. He has a reputation for not being the most coachable player in the system, but he was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason when he could have been left unprotected and he’s been acting pretty compliant this spring considering he’s nowhere near pitching in a game.
“We’re not going to rush him,” said manager Dave Roberts. “He’s doing well.”
“We’re working toward something in the future,” said Alvarez.
But it’s been a struggle. Alvarez is so talented that he’s still ranked the No. 17 prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline, but his stock has fallen since he peaked at No. 3 in 2017. He’ll be 23 next week, one year younger than Walker Buehler, one year older than Julio Urías. He spent most of last year at Double-A, but missed two months with a groin injury, striking out 62 in 55 1/3 innings, but also walking 44.
Here’s his MLB Pipeline scouting report: “Outside of the Reds' Hunter Greene, no pitching prospect generates premium velocity as easily as Alvarez, whose athleticism and outstanding arm speed allow him to maintain a 94-98 mph fastball as a starter and reach 101 at his best. Both his upper-80s slider and lower-80s curveball can be wipeout pitches, with his slider the better of the two, and he even has flashed a plus slider on occasion.
“Alvarez has wow stuff yet little feel for using it. He doesn't maintain the tempo of his delivery or keep it in sync, diminishing the quality of his stuff and leading to scattershot control. He's undeniably talented and has a huge ceiling, but there are questions about his dedication that won't help him reach it.”
In fairness to Alvarez, at least he’s still at it. The Dodgers spent a record $166.9 million on Cuban signings in 2015-16, trying to make up for abandoning the Caribbean during the Frank McCourt era, and Alvarez was one of the jewel targets.
Since then, Hector Olivera (for Alex Wood), Yusniel Diaz (for Manny Machado) and Oneil Cruz (for Tony Watson) were traded. Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena and Pablo Fernandez were released. Yaisel Sierra was hurt and didn’t play last year. Alvarez and infielder Omar Estevez are the only players from that signing group currently in big-league camp.
Not much to show for half a Bryce Harper contract, but hope springs eternal. Alvarez was raised by his mother. His preferred sport growing up was soccer, but baseball offered a more lucrative professional future. He originally was a shortstop, but his Little League teams needed pitching.
“You have to accept the fact that baseball is changing and the sport is changing and I’m open to learning more things and they are teaching me how to stay in the game for a long time,” said Alvarez. “The hardest adjustment is the climate, learning the signs, a different way of playing baseball. You need to use your mind a lot. Listen to the instructors. It’s a mental game.”