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Vlad Who? Meet Yordan Alvarez, A.L. Rookie of the Year Candidate


Yordan Alvarez is not Vladimir Gurrero Jr. and that's a good thing. While April 26, 2019 was National Vladito Day, we should also keep in mind that there are other young players in the MLB universe too.

Fantasy baseball owners, in particular, should be careful not to get carried away, as only one person in each league can be the proud owner of this year's most-hyped prospect. The good news is that there are plenty of other fish in the sea of hard-hitting minor leaguers waiting to get their shot.

One name that hasn't gotten enough attention from a fantasy standpoint just yet is Houston Astros outfielder Yordan Alvarez. He wasn't touched even in deep NFBC drafts and sits behind Kyle Tucker and Derek Fisher within his own organization's OF ranks. That could change quickly if he keeps up his torrid pace at Triple-A, forcing the team to call on him when searching for help for a mid-season push. Let's formally introduce this young player to the fantasy world.

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The Next Cuban Missile

The recent history of Cuban players to make an impact in the majors is well-documented by now. In terms of hitters alone, we can look to Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Yoan Moncada and current Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel as prime examples. Alvarez will have an easier time transitioning than those players did and at the age of 21, he won't have experienced the same length of struggles.

At 6'5", 225 lbs with room to grow, Alvarez might profile as a younger version of Jorge Soler but from the left side of the plate. Soler hasn't yet lived up to his billing as a top prospect but he is at least showing some power in his age-27 season. Whereas Soler struggled initially after being called up and never quite re-gained steam, Alvarez may not have that problem if he keeps up his minor-league success.

Alvarez played two years in Cuba, struggling in his first year as a 16-year-old but then showing an advanced eye and strong plate discipline the following year. He hit .351 while striking out just 10 times in 111 at-bats. Starting at Rookie ball in 2016 at the age of 18, Alvarez only made 57 plate appearances but he made the most of them; he hit .341 and posted a 12-7 BB-K rate. He kept it going, batting .360 at the low-A level and started to show some power with nine home runs in 32 games. As he progressed through the Astros' farm system, he maintained a high average along with his burgeoning raw power, including 18 HR in 63 games at the Triple-A level.

Jump to present day, where Alvarez has gotten off to a blazing start with 11 HR, 29 RBI and a .347/.443/.867 slash line over 75 AB. Some will dismiss his gaudy numbers based on the fact he plays in the Pacific Coast League, which tends to see inflated offensive numbers. That hasn't stopped prospects like Hunter Dozier, Daniel Vogelbach, Christian Walker, and Peter Alonso from translating their production to the majors this year and shouldn't be a reason to dismiss Alvarez either. It's not as if he's a late bloomer who just started taking off once he hit Round Rock.

 

2019 Outlook

Let's start with the obvious - we don't know if/when he's getting called up. This is a frustrating aspect of the Major League Baseball experience because of some unique conventions on service time and Super 2 rules. It was widely assumed that Guerrero Jr. would be on the Opening Day roster until the Blue Jays killed our joy to manipulate his service time. Houston isn't rushing Alvarez either and they shouldn't. They happen to be in a position where having an impact minor leaguer is a luxury, not a necessity. This rings true both in terms of offensive production and attendance at the gates.

Houston also doesn't seem to need much offensive help at the moment, as they lead the majors with a .271 team average and are fifth with 48 home runs. They rank just 14th in runs scored however and are still looking up at Seattle in the early standings. On an individual level, there are a couple of spots that could stand to be improved in the lineup. For a team still in win-now mode just two years removed from a World Series title, they won't be too patient if a change is in their best interests.

Current first basemen Yuli Gurriel and DH/1B Tyler White haven't been total liabilities but they aren't providing much pop either. Gurriel is batting .240 and White is at .261 but the duo has combined for one home run over the first month of play. The team won't move away from Gurriel but A.J. Hinch already seems impatient with White, sitting him more often as the year goes on. His .207 average against right-handers and complete lack of power could pave the way for a left-handed masher like Alvarez.

 

Conclusion

While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has dominated the headlines recently, and rightfully so. Prospects like Carter Kieboom and Nick Senzel are making much-anticipated debuts as the calendar turns to May. Yordan Alvarez may not get the same fanfare when he finally arrives but he could have just as big of an impact for fantasy teams. His plus power and ability to hit to all fields may be MLB-ready before we know it.

Alvarez came free in preseason drafts, although nobody bothered to take him outside of deep keeper leagues and dynasty formats. As big a fan as I am of his potential, I'll admit I didn't have him on a single roster until just two weeks ago where I was able to stash him on my NA spot in a couple of keeper leagues and outbid the competition in Ottoneu for the price of a single FAAB dollar. Now it's time to sit back and wait for that call to be made...

If you have an NA spot open or occupied by an unsatisfying prospect like Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia, or Bryse Wilson, then consider making a move now to pre-empt your opponents' waiver wire bids. There are few rookies that can instantly slide into a lineup and be impact players for fantasy purposes - Alvarez looks to be one.

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