This Braves prospect went from overlooked to must-see

March 11th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Ignacio Alvarez Jr. has spent the past couple of weeks savoring the opportunity to take grounders with proven stars like Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies. Less than three years ago, he graduated high school without any offers to play Division I collegiate baseball.

“I get to be around some of the best players in the league and they’ve just taken me under their wing,” said Alvarez, who is also known as “Nacho.” “Some of these guys, I grew up watching. Like even David Fletcher. I saw him in Anaheim. I was in middle school when he was coming up. Now I get to be in the same locker room as him?”

Alvarez is one of the Braves’ fastest-rising prospects, ranking No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects for the club. The 20-year-old infielder will be part of Atlanta’s prospects team that will face a team of Red Sox top prospects during Spring Breakout on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET.

“It’s like the Futures Game, just more guys are able to get in it,” Alvarez said. “We’ve got some pretty good dudes in this system. We’re just not getting any attention. I think we’re going to do well, and I think having these games is a pretty good idea.”

These games are designed to bring attention to players like Alvarez, who really never drew attention before he hit .370 with five home runs in 48 games with Riverside City College in 2021. The Royals and the Rangers showed some interest in the Cal State-Fullerton commit, but the Braves didn’t enter the picture until they took the young infielder in the fifth round of the 2022 Draft and gave him an over-slot signing bonus of $497,500.

With Alvarez impressing during his first big league camp, it looks like the Braves made a wise investment.

“I honestly never thought this was going to happen this quick,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez has quickly established himself as the Braves’ top position player prospect. His solid frame creates reason to expect he might end up as a third baseman, but he has continued to show great athleticism while handling the shortstop position.

“The reports on him are really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Everybody who was with him last year has said he can really hit. He might look like a catcher when he’s out there playing short, but he makes the plays. Everything I’ve seen with his bat and glove has been really impressive.”

Alvarez has shown why Atlanta was so happy to select him two years ago. He posted a .786 OPS and was successful with 16 of 21 stolen base attempts for High-A Rome last year. He played shortstop in all but one of the 108 games he appeared in defensively.

“My first full season and I got thrown into High-A,” Alvarez said. “I think I was the youngest guy on the team by like two years. At first, it felt weird being that young. But I feel like I’m mature for being this young.”

Only 10 of the 491 plate appearances Alvarez totaled last year were against pitchers younger than him. He will likely experience similar challenges as he moves to the Double-A level this year.

“The dude can flat out hit,” Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. “He can put the barrel on the ball. I’ve been very impressed. He has an unconventional swing, but he knows how to use it.”