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Yordan Alvarez Debuts... and It's Everything We Hoped For


Six weeks ago, we heralded the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Two weeks ago, we lamented the call-ups of Derek Fisher and Myles Straw. All the while, Yordan Alvarez waited patiently in the minors, ripping the cover off the ball.

And now, the time has come. Alvarez is up with the big club and announced his presence immediately with a two-run homer in his first game as an Astro.

You obviously remember my column from a few weeks ago where I declared Alvarez this year's American League Rookie of the Year-in-waiting. At last, he can make good on that prediction. Let's see what Alvarez can bring to the table.

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Background

First, let's review his background, for those unfamiliar. Alvarez is a native Cuba who played two years in his home country. He started at the age of 16, struggling in his first year of professional ball. He improved his plate discipline greatly the following year, hitting .351 with just 10 strikeouts over 111 at-bats. He was signed by the Dodgers at 18 but was then traded to Houston in exchange for reliever Josh Fields.

In his first year of Rookie ball, Alvarez made 57 plate appearances and hit .341 with more walks (12) than strikeouts (seven). He kept it going, batting .360 at the low-A level and started to show some power with nine home runs in 32 games. He kept progressing in Double-A, slashing .325/.389/.615 with 12 HR in 169 at-bats but then struggled a bit once he reached Triple-A, batting .259 with lesser power numbers over nearly the same timeframe. For that reason, he wasn't at the top of the radar for impact prospects heading into this year.

In 56 games and 256 plate appearances for Triple-A Round Rock in 2019, Alvarez tormented pitchers to the tune of a .343/.443/.742 slash line with 23 HR, 71 RBI. The PCL is known to be a hitter-friendly league but he was the cream of the crop, ranking first in home runs and runs batted in, second in slugging and on-base percentage, and seventh in batting average. This includes a mini-slump that coinciding with the call-ups of Fisher and Straw, which probably depressed him almost as much as fantasy owners who had been stashing him for weeks. Alvarez had nothing to prove in the minors and finally forced Houston GM Jeff Luhnow's hand.

In most other farm systems, Alvarez would be at the top of the prospect list and potentially made the 25-man roster out of spring training. In Houston, there is an embarrassment of riches and having Alvarez in the lineup is simply a luxury. He was a top-100 overall prospect heading into 2019, ranked as high as 34 by Baseball America. At 21 years of age, Alvarez has shown some ability but didn't stand out until this year. Service time was no longer an issue, so why the delay?

 

Slow Your Roll

As much as we all want to anoint him the Next Big Thing®, there are legitimate reasons Alvarez didn't reach the majors right away and they don't have to do with service time.

First, it seems Luhnow was a bit gunshy after last year's failed experiment with Kyle Tucker. As he said to the Houston Chronicle, “The same people who were clamoring for Kyle Tucker to come up because he was destroying AAA pitching are the same people now clamoring for Yordan Alvarez to come up. If he is coming up, he’s coming up to play, and if he comes up and hits .210, that’s not going to help our team. I need to make sure he’s going to help our team.” So far so good. Then again, it's been one game.

The other issue is where he fits in, as young players don't typically slot in at DH immediately. As Luhnow said back in late April, “He’s working on his defense right now and making sure he can play at least an average left field if he comes up here, because we’re going to need him to play in the field. The bat seems to be the carrying tool for him and the power is there." Yes, the bat is indeed there. The defense has never been and may never be a strong suit, so his playing time may be completely dependent on his bat.

He played DH in his first Major League game and could stay there for the foreseeable future, as a replacement for Tyler White, who has been the worst hitter on one of the majors' best offensive teams. Ideally, the Astros find a way to make him the primary DH. At the very least, they could put Alvarez in a lefty/righty platoon with Yuli Gurriel at first base in order to get him on the field.

Finally, while Alvarez didn't have any problem with left-handers in the minors, he could be slow-played against lefties if he does struggle at all in his first taste of action. He had the benefit of facing Dylan Bundy and the O's in his debut, which gives any hitter a good chance for a long ball. On Tuesday, the Astros face Freddy Peralta and the Brewers in what could be Alvarez's second MLB game. Facing a young right-hander who has allowed eight HR in seven starts, we could be in store for another power display. Still, it's hard to tell how much time Alvarez will get against lefties and whether the promotion will even last once George Springer and Carlos Correa come off the IL.

Keeping Luhnow's words in mind, it could just take a bad stretch for Alvarez to get yanked down to Triple-A again. Kyle Tucker still hasn't found his way back, as the team wants to make sure he doesn't flop again - as much was said about Alvarez. That hard-earned FAAB bid could pay off in huge dividends or it could go straight out the window if he is back in Round Rock by July.

 

Rookie of the Year Material?

Yordan Alvarez is the hottest prospect du jour and a must-add in all formats based on his scorching pace in the minors. But should you burn all your FAAB on someone who may not stick on the roster?

Houston hasn't needed any help with their lineup this year; they currently rank second in team average at .267, fourth with 106 home runs and eighth with 342 runs scored. That changed when Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer all hit the IL recently. The team was in no rush to bring Alvarez up but finally had no choice due to numerous injuries. That said, Springer should be back before the All-Star break, although no return date has been set. Once the starters are back, Alvarez could be a victim of the numbers crunch. His lack of defensive prowess or versatility could lead the team to keep a player like Straw, who has taken reps at shortstop, or Fisher, who is far speedier, instead.

Any fantasy owner outside of the shallowest of leagues should have interest in Alvarez and he's worth a massive bid based on his enormous raw power. Be warned that his time in the majors isn't guaranteed to be a long one, though. When comparing him to a player like Austin Riley, who has already entrenched himself as an everyday player in Atlanta, it's best not to be overly optimistic that Alvarez will match that production over the course of the season. Then again, we are talking about the impending Rookie of the Year... screw it, go all in!

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