GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At White Sox camp, it was No. 26 prospect Eddy Alvarez. Alvarez gave up baseball for most of six
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At White Sox camp, it was No. 26 prospect Eddy Alvarez.
Alvarez gave up baseball for most of six years after high school to train for the Olympics as a speed skater, failing to qualify in 2010 because of knee injuries but winning a silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay at Sochi in 2014. Afterward, he signed with the White Sox as a 24-year-old nondrafted free agent for no bonus and has performed as if he never had a layoff. He hit .310/.416/.446 with 62 steals in 168 games in his first two years of pro ball, advancing to Class A Advanced.
MLBPipeline.com: You gave up skating for your last three years of high school, put baseball on hold to try out for the 2010 Olympics, played a year as a shortstop at Salt Lake CC in 2011 and then focused on speed skating again for three more years. Which sport would you say you love the most?
Alvarez: I had a dream to be an Olympian and I had to do that now. In baseball, you can be a little older, but skating had to be done right now. I love racing. I love being on the diamond. Skating and baseball brought a lot out in me. I can't tell you which one I love more because it's hard for me to pick one. I love competing.
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MLBPipeline.com: After you left baseball in 2011 and began the three-year process of working toward the Olympics, what did you think the chances were that you'd return to the diamond?
Alvarez: I always knew that I would go back, skating back to baseball, baseball back to skating. I had two dreams and had the potential to make those dreams come true. It was tough but it really taught me work ethic, playing two sports. To get that medal was so satisfying. I want to encourage young athletes to accomplish their dreams.
MLBPipeline.com: Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and that's if you dedicate yourself to it full-time. You lost maybe 3,000 at-bats over a six-year period while speed skating, yet you've stepped right into pro ball and hit .346 and .296 in your first two seasons while walking almost as much as you've struck out. How is this possible and did you expect to do so well so quickly?
Alvarez: Growing up, I always was very good at hand-eye coordination. Jumping straight into professional ball, I didn't expect to hit like I did. But what I had to go through to get to the Olympics helped make the transition to baseball easier. I'm a sponge and I've tried to absorb all the information I've been given. A lot of coaches have been patient with me, doing early work and extra work to help me get back.
MLBPipeline.com: How has it been trying to get reacclimated to playing defense after your layoff? You made 30 errors in 111 games last year at shortstop, and some scouts think your arm strength may be better suited for second base.
Alvarez: Defense has been tough. I went into a huge slump last year while getting used to the everyday grind, and it was rough for me a little bit. I pride myself on my defense. I like to think I have the sweetest hands out there and get to balls other guys don't. The mental grind got to me a little bit and it's been a huge learning process. Last year, I had some elbow and shoulder issues. It hurts when scouts say I have a weak arm. I'm on a throwing program and I hope I change their minds.
MLBPipeline.com: The next Winter Olympics are two years away. Have you thought at all about speed skating again in Pyeongchang, South Korea?
Alvarez: It was in the back of my mind, but baseball is going so well. This is something I want to do, so skating it not in the back of my mind right now. I'm satisfied with what I did and what I got to do.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter.