The Toronto Blue Jays today promoted 21 year old flame thrower Henderson Alvarez from the Double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats all the way to the big league roster, with the expectation that he will make his MLB debut tomorrow night with a start against the Oakland A’s.

Alvarez, originally thought of as more of a control and command pitching prospect, has emerged this season with drastic increases in his velocity, reportedly touching as high as 101 mph with his four seam fastball. He’s also said to posses a plus change up and a breaking pitch that still needs time to develop.

There’s been some concern with his relatively low strikeout rate at Double A, but as the heavily bearded Andrew Stoeten pointed out at DJF, it’s been improving over time. Still, a belief persists that the young pitcher doesn’t miss a lot of bats for someone throwing with such heat:

Kevin Goldstein, from a recent Baseball Prospectus chat:

I talk to scouts to see if the pitch is straight and/or if they are relying on the pitch too much. Alvarez needs to improve his breaking ball, and has a tendency to elevate, thus the lack of missed bats.

That doesn’t sound too promising.

Maybe the always hopeful Keith Law can justify Alvarez’s seemingly quick call up after seeing the young right hander perform at the MLB Futures Game:

Henderson Alvarez  was 93-97 mph with a fringy curveball that had good two-plane break but lacked tight rotation; he didn’t show the plus changeup but located the fastball well. There’s some effort there, but he loads his hips to the point where the hitter can see the Z in “Alvarez” and he also generates tremendous torque to get his arm accelerated. I don’t know why he doesn’t miss more bats, but plus fastball/plus changeup/fringy curveball is still a mid-rotation or better starter in the long term.

So, the Blue Jays just called up a 21 year old pitcher who throws straight fastballs up in the zone, possesses a fringy breaking ball and might have some mechanical issues?

Having never seen Alvarez pitch and only able to look at a limited number of statistics from his Minor League starts, I’m going by consensus from the scouting types and what information I do have available to be less than convinced about this being the type of pitcher you want to put on the active roster without maybe giving him the benefit of more time down on the farm, developing a little bit further before calling up.

Look at what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing with their dominant pitching prospect Matt Moore who not only demolished Double A batters with his three plus pitches, but has now built on that dominance in Triple A where he’s striking out 42.4% of the batters he’s faced. Moore is ten months older than Alvarez, has better stuff, is more fully formed and has found more success at the Minor League level, and yet the Rays, an organization known for its cautiousness with pitching prospects, aren’t likely to call him up this season at all.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for a former position player who still hasn’t grown into the pitcher he’ll become to get every opportunity to develop into that future hurler before being brought up? Didn’t the Blue Jays justify the demotion of Travis Snider earlier this season by suggesting that Major League Baseball isn’t the level at which players work on things?

I understand that with Carlos Villanueva on the Disabled List, the team needs a starter on Wednesday, but calling up Alvarez at this point seems shortsighted at best and detrimental at worst.

Comments (26)

  1. Just spitballing here but it feels like Farrell is calling the shots on demotions, promotions more than AA. Farrell mentions he wants to see Alvarez and boom, he’s here.

  2. I think they just wanna see what the kid can do before the rosters get diluted in September. I’d expect him to make maybe two or three starts then back down to the minors. I don’t know why everyione is in such a panic over rushing him; reward the kid with a coupe starts in the bigs, then when you send him down he’ll know what he needs to work on to be competative and be even more hungy to get back.

  3. Small sample size, but worth noting, that in July and August so far, Alvarez pitched 39.2 innings with 39 strikeouts.

  4. Nicholas: I agree. Julio Teheran got 2-3 starts with Atlanta this year and got rocked. Did this development get destroyed because of this? Hardly.

  5. P.S. I think Cito and Farrell sitting Snider for Thames and Fred Lewis as well as sending him down multiple times was more damaging to Snider than the early first call-up.

  6. Why not see what they’ve got? The Jays are in a different position than the Rays. The Rays move slowly with minor league promotions because they need to keep players cheap for as long as possible. Therefore, they make sure their prospects make the Majors during peak performance years to keep player salaries down. The Jays are not operating under the financial restraints that the Rays are.

    Also, you seem to be taking all the negatives out of Goldstein and Law’s reports. Nowhere do they say he has a straight fastball (Pete Walker, the pitching coach at AA says it has good sink). Law says that with his pitching repertoire, he can be a mid-rotation starter or better. Plus, if he has bad mechanics, better to promote him sooner before he hurts himself and at least get something out of him.

  7. No no no. Farrell makes his remarks after he’s ‘informed’ by AA. Think Zach Stewart here. The Jays brass will showcase Alvarez to other teams while Drabek is refined in AAA. Think about it, who better to put your rookie with raw talent against than the A’s, Mariner’s, A’s, Rays and Orioles? What’s the worst that happens, you send him back down and keep him for yourself or a bigger trade down the road.

    This is a good sign if AA is showcasing…it means he’s likely looking to trade for a major pitching piece. All my speculation.

  8. Potentially burning an option and prematurely starting his service time seems incredibly unnecessary just for him to get knocked around by big league bats for a few games.

  9. Parkes,

    Highlighting only the negatives of this management is one thing (Bautista’s ‘premature’ contract, Alvarez’ ‘incredibly unnecessary’ call up.) Now you’re making broad statements about how Alvarez will get knocked around by some of the weakest line ups over his next three starts.

    Parkes, you’ve become the NEW GRIFFIN. Shame.


  10. Are the Jays burning an option and prematurely starting Lawrie’s service time as well? It looks like the Jays are committed to playing the young guys now and getting them so experience. The Jays have gone with a rookie catcher in Arencibia. Thames, Drabek, Cooper and Mills have all had major league playing time and now Lawrie and Alvarez are getting callups. This is necessary if they want to take a step forward together. The young guys all need experience and the Jays are giving it to them.

  11. Parkes seems to peeing on people’s cereal today.

    I don’t really see how one or two starts will really affect a career so why even bother objecting to it.

    The Rays’, though a great development program especially with pitchers, their system and process is by far not the end-all-and-be-all.

    Now I’m not cynical enough to believe that the only reason that the Rays are so conservative in bringing up pitchers is purely an economic issue, but it has to be a major factor. Whereas the Jays have no such problem.

    If AA wants to see how good his pitcher’s stuff is, against major league hitting, he’s not doing it in September. He’s gotta do it now in August before the call-ups come in spades. So let’s see what the kid has and if it ain’t great, he’ll have at a taste of what to expect the next time.

    To put it another way: “what me worry?”

  12. Nobody’s option is getting burned until next year, when it would have to anyway.

  13. Oh Parkes you negative Nancy. It’s a couple starts let’s see what he has.

  14. I don’t think its premature. I think the Jays legitimately see him as a front runner for a spot in the rotation next year and this is simply a case of getting him some exposure to the league and seeing how he responds at a time when wins and losses are less of an issue. If their wrong and he’s not ready, they’ll find out in a hurry.. but better now than next year.

    I also don’t really see what the concern is re: the lack of strikeouts. First, as others have mentioned, its steadily improved over the course of the season. Second, he’s a pitch to contact type who gets a lot of ground balls. That’s not the type of pitcher you’d expect to get a tonne of strikeouts from, which is fine so long as he doesn’t walk many, which he doesn’t.

  15. Do the A’s knock anybody around offensively?


  17. Parkes is just tempering peoples expectations.

    Can’t blame him.

  18. Love the blog but have to disagree with this post. If they feel he has a shot to make the rotation next year and can use him to compete for a playoff spot, best to have a look.

  19. I don’t think they would bring him up unless they felt he could have at least some success. I’m also weary of relying on scouting reports that are a month and a half old and from 1 or 2 innings of work. As BringVottoHome said, his strikeout rate has improved and I would trust that the Jays scouting staff and management have seen enough improvement of late to warrant a call-up.

  20. Isn’t the story here more that Vegas is a shitty, shitty place for a young pitcher to develop confidence and game management against next-tier hitters?

  21. You may be bang on Stephen. For a pitcher like Drabek, where the Blue Jays intention is for him to work on specific areas: keep the ball down, location of specific pitches, dealing with rough innings without falling apart – the PCL is an alright place to go. Given the option of pitching in Toronto or Vegas – I’d far prefer to see Alvarez in Toronto where the variables are known and controlled. I don’t love the idea of bringing up a 21 year old pitcher before you’re very sure about his development.. but he clearly needs to pitch against better competition. A short glimpse now at MLB level may be better than finishing out the year at AAA.

  22. Anyone familiar with when the Jays affiliation with Vegas would expire? It would be great if the Jays could find somewhere closer to TO – both for the organization (moving players back and forth) and for fans who would like to keep up with the farm system. Although there are probably more direct flights from Toronto to Vegas than other places… If they were somewhere like Buffalo they’d probably do pretty well at the gates with people from the Niagara region.

  23. @Mats – I remember reading recently that the current contract with the Vegas team is up for renewal after next season. Buffalo has been a realistic possibility from what I’ve read.

  24. With all due respect, Alvarez’ identity through his minor league career hasn’t been as a “control and command” pitcher, it’s been (as Brendan already mentioned) as a ground ball pitcher with excellent command. He gives up a lot of hits, yes – in part because minor league defenses suck. A common problem for up-and-coming sinkerballers. (And actually, this year he’s given up fewer hits than innings pitched.)

    Obviously you still want GB pitchers to rack up the Ks in the minor leagues, but it isn’t AS important, and Alvarez already has several MLB-calibre attributes.

  25. Parkes. Thou dost worry too much about service time and options. Especially options. The truly good ones rarely use up their options anyway. Keep Alvarez on the roster for August and then there is no need to bother sending him down this year (Option saved!).
    Minor league numbers can be deceiving, but even the scouty types agree that the raw stuff is there. Maybe, just maybe, AA, knowing that his best pitching coaches are in Toronto (not Manchester, NH) thinks that the better instruction he will get in the Show will allow him to better reach his obvious potential.
    Anyways, no one likes a reactionary.

  26. Lots of fastballs in the 94-96mph range, but also lots of those were balls one after another. I’m no scout, but how do you tell when a player is ready? Lawrie was absolutely ecstatic after that grand slam. It was a beautiful inning. That’s what everyone will remember of that game. Much harder to impress a crowd by pitching… I think with Lawrie, he will open up the attitide of the team more… be positive and show it. That’s what the fans want to see.

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