HOUSTON -- Considering the Astros had a glaring need for steady production at designated hitter early in the season, the arrival of Yordan Alvarez couldn’t come fast enough. After Alvarez hit 23 homers in 56 games at Triple-A Round Rock, it was time to see whether the Cuban slugger had what it takes to succeed in the Major Leagues.
The Astros called up Alvarez on June 9 and watched him become one of the most dangerous bats in the middle of perhaps the best lineup in baseball. With great plate discipline and prodigious power, Alvarez hit .313 with 27 homers, 78 RBIs and set a Major League rookie record with a 1.067 OPS in 87 games, winning the American League Rookie of the Month in each of his first three months in the big leagues.
That made Alvarez the overwhelming favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and he did so unanimously, receiving all 30 first-place votes in balloting revealed Monday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The only other Astros players to win the Rookie of the Year Award are Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell in the National League in 1991 and Carlos Correa in the AL in 2015. Alvarez is the 11th player to win the AL Rookie of the Year by unanimous vote.
“What an incredible year and recognition for Alvarez,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said through the team. “He did everything we could have asked and more. His dynamic presence on our team is undeniable. I’m proud of how he handled his transition to the big leagues, his immediate success, all the attention, and ultimately his actions as a teammate. A great and well-deserved honor.”
Alvarez, 22, homered in his second Major League at-bat and didn’t slow down for months. He hit seven homers in his first 12 games, which is a club record, and set a Major League record by posting 51 RBIs in his first 45 games. He led all MLB rookies in extra-base hits (53), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.655). Alvarez’s 178 WRC+ tied for second among rookies in the live-ball era (since 1920), trailing Willie McCovey’s 185 in 1959.
In September, Alvarez hit a 415-foot homer down the right-field line that landed in Minute Maid Park’s upper deck, becoming the first Astros player to reach the third deck in fair territory. His tape-measure homers in batting practice and games were equally as entertaining.
“It was a really good experience for the future, being able to play in big stadiums with a lot of fans,” said Alvarez, who plans to work on his defense in the offseason to perhaps play more games in the field next year. “I really felt focused on what I was doing, but obviously paying attention to everything around me.”
From his June 9 debut until the end of the season, Alvarez ranked in the top 10 among all AL hitters in RBIs (second), OBP (third), slugging (third), OPS (fourth), extra-base hits (fifth), homers (tied, sixth), doubles (tied, seventh) and batting average (ninth). His 1.067 OPS was the sixth-highest by a player 22 years or younger in MLB’s modern era (since 1900).
Entering the season, Alvarez wasn’t thought of as a player who would be in the running for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Most of that buzz went to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays and Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox. Even Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker was generating more preseason hype.
That is perhaps because Alvarez had played in only 88 games in the Minor Leagues after the Astros acquired him in an Aug. 1, 2016, trade with the Dodgers for relief pitcher Josh Fields. Alvarez had played in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in each of the previous two seasons and ranked 42nd MLB Pipeline’s preseason Top 100 Prospect list, but no one expected the kind of production he provided.
“It’s a [goal] of every player to get to the Major Leagues, and when I was living in the moment, it was a dream,” he said.
The Astros are expected to land more hardware from the BBWAA this week. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole join Rays pitcher Charlie Morton as the finalists for the AL Cy Young Award, which will be announced Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT on MLB Network. Meanwhile, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is a finalist for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, along with Mike Trout of the Angels and Marcus Semien of the A’s. That winner will be revealed Thursday at 5 p.m. CT on MLB Network.