Healthy Yordan 'feels good,' eyes LF reps

Astros slugger hits first spring HR as Altuve, Tucker also go deep vs. Nats

March 9th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Given 's size and track record, it might sound a little odd to say that he’s attracting very little attention at Spring Training so far.

But that’s good news for Alvarez, who this time of year is sometimes in the spotlight for the wrong reasons -- all injury-related. But with just under three weeks remaining until Opening Day, the 26-year-old slugger so far has managed to lay low, simply by playing more than he ever has in the exhibition season and doing what he’s best known for -- hitting the ball hard.

Under those terms, Alvarez’s workday Saturday fell in line with expectations. He had three at-bats in the Astros’ 9-4 win over the Nationals: a base hit in the first, a fly ball that wasn’t hit particularly hard but still traveled to the top of the warning track in center field in the second inning, and the topper in the fourth inning -- his first homer of the spring, a towering shot off Luis Perdomo that cleared the wall in right field.

“I felt very good,” Alvarez said, through team interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “Still trying to make a couple of adjustments there at the plate, but I still feel pretty good.”

Spring Training means different things to different players, depending on how established they are in the game. For veterans like Alvarez, springtime is less about results and more about maintaining a pace that provides a reasonable path to being ready for Opening Day.

In past years, Alvarez’s spring routine sometimes included dealing with injuries that threatened his chances to be ready for the regular season or sidelined him for chunks of time during the year. There appear to be no such issues so far; the only narrative circling around the 6-foot-5 outfielder/DH these days is how much he’ll play in left field and how comfortable he is nestled in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, in between Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Alvarez offered this much about that cushy spot in the order: it “feels good,” adding that the lineup configuration is “very interesting.” He hopes to see ample playing time in left field, but deferred to manager Joe Espada to answer questions about the frequency of his reps out there: “I like to play it. I understand I might not be a player that is going to be out there every single day, just because I haven’t done it in the past. But I want to be out there.”

One other storyline may develop as time progresses, assuming Alvarez’s health stays intact: How long will it take for him to thrust himself into the American League MVP conversation?

The AL MVP award has always provided stiff competition, but even more so in more recent times, given two-way player Shohei Ohtani pitched and hit so well that it was difficult for anyone else to reasonably compete for the honor. Ohtani was named AL MVP in 2021 and ‘23, with Yankees slugger Aaron Judge sandwiched in between after setting a new AL home run record in 2022.

Ohtani is now the National League’s conundrum, after the two-way phenom signed a long-term contract with the Dodgers. That most likely means the AL MVP field is a little more reasonably distributed, and that group should include Alvarez.

A lot has to happen between now and then, of course, and winning an MVP award is of significantly less importance to this group of Astros, given the focus every year is on the World Series and their realistic chance to win it. But Alvarez -- whose highest finish in MVP voting was 2022, when he placed third -- is a good one to keep an eye on this year.

For now, Alvarez will continue doing his best to evade attention while preparing for the season, building on routines he started last offseason when he worked with Astros trainers in Houston in an effort to pace himself as Opening Day approaches.

“The biggest thing for me is to continue with that pace and focus on the small details that we’re always trying to focus on and improve,” Alvarez said.

“He’s in a really good spot,” Espada said. “He has never played this much so early in camp. But he trained really hard and he wanted to be out there early in Spring Training, getting reps, at-bats, playing some outfield. So right now he's healthy.”