Jose De Leon is officially a Los Angeles Dodger.
Fans had been waiting for that statement to ring true. De Leon wanted Vin Scully to call one of his games, and not only did he get his wish, but he collected nine strikeouts (second most ever for debuting Dodger) and a win over the division rival San Diego Padres.
De Leon may or may not stay in the majors, but he has cracked that ultimate threshold. Now it’s time to look at who we will anxiously await to see on the mound next. Grant Holmes was long thought to be the guy, but he was surprisingly dealt to Oakland in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade. The Dodgers’ best pitching prospect is now Cuban phenom Yadier Alvarez. The Alvarez-hype train hasn’t quite left the station yet, but that moment is nearing. In his short time in professional baseball, Alvarez is proving to be worth the price of admission.
Los Angeles signed Yadier Alvarez in July 2015 with a $16 million bonus (the second largest ever). He was considered one of the premier prospects of the international signing period. Considered a power pitcher with top of the rotation potential, Alvarez currently ranks No. 5 on MLB.com’s Dodgers prospect rankings – and his trajectory is trending upward. In June, he made his Arizona League debut with a seven-strikeout performance in 3.2 innings. In 20 innings, he posted a 1.80 ERA with a 26:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Alvarez was then promoted to low-A, where he’s continued to be electrifying. He went 4-3 with a 2.12 ERA in 59.1 innings. He strikeout 81 in that span, which places him around 12 k’s per/nine. A large reason for those numbers is his repertoire: His fastball typically sits between 92-98 miles per hour. Alvarez also boasts a slider, changeup and curveball, though all are a work in progress. Understand: He’s a 20-year-old already comfortably using a variety of pitches. Scouts have praised Alvarez’s delivery, calling it smooth and “effortless,” which bodes well for improving his control.
Speaking of his command, it’s in need of heavy development. L.A. started that process by altering Alvarez’s arm angle and trying to keep him level with home plate. In addition, he has minimal real-game experience, which could force the Dodgers to wait on another promotion. There’s also no way to know how he holds up over the course of a full game right now. His stamina hasn’t been tested. His fastball may tail off as a game goes on; his control could fade as he tires. As promising as he appears, there are still enough red flags to stay cautious.
Eric Longenhagen wrote about Alvarez on Fangraphs in May. He said while the command is a concern, Alvarez exhibits enough to be a No. 2.
“I think there’s No. 2 starter ceiling here.” Longenhagen said, “With the chance for a 70 future fastball, 60 slider, 50 curveball, 45 changeup and 50+ control/command.”
The Dodgers tend to bring their pitchers along slowly, but as Julio Urias proved this season, a truly great player can’t be held back. It’s not out of the question we see Alvarez next year. His production suggests he will fit into the long-term rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Urias and potentially De Leon. He would also be highly regarded on the trade market, if Los Angeles chose to look in that direction. But history says this front office will hold Alvarez unless a Chris Sale-type rolls along.
In general, the team has to be thrilled with his progress. Considering the amount of money L.A. has invested on the international market only to be burned (Hector Olivera, Yaisel Sierra, Alex Guerrero), Alvarez looks even better. As we continue to see the growth of young Dodgers, and the payoff of the recent youth movement, keep Alvarez in mind. His time is coming, and it’s coming very soon.