Cuban righty Yadier Alvarez was the $16 million crown jewel of the Dodgers’ 2015/2016 international free-agent class. It was the second-highest bonus ever given to an international amateur and reports on Alvarez prior to last July were so good that I ranked him #1 on my J2 board at the time. Alvarez ventured stateside this spring and has consistently pitched every fifth day, only missing one start to attend the birth of his child. Reports coming out of Camelback Ranch have been superlative. On Monday, I got to see it for myself along with a number of other interesting prospects.
Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 20.2, Height/Weight: 6’3/180
Signed: IFA at age 19 on July 2, 2015 out of Cuba by LA for $16.0 million bonus
Alvarez was electric. After opening his start with a few fringe fastballs, he began to loosen up and was sitting 92-97 before long. He has been up to 100 this spring, which is especially notable given that there were rumors over the offseason that his velocity had been down. Mixed in along with the fastball was an 82-86 mph slider with late, two-plane bite. It flashed plus, but the line between that pitch and his 76-82 mph curveball was sometimes blurry. The curveball is a bit more vertically oriented than the slider and Alvarez decelerates his arm a bit to throw it, but it flashed average and it should solidify there once he becomes more comfortable with its release.
Alvarez runs the slider away from righties and can throw the curveball for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings and misses. Fairly consistent, intentional usage of these pitches like this is impressive for a 20-year-old. The changeup is behind, currently a 30 on the 20-80 scale — again, with noticeable arm deceleration. He has very little feel for it right now but at age 20 with this kind of athleticism and arm action, liberal developmental expectations are justifiable.
His delivery is loose and effortless, among the most casual and natural I’ve ever seen, especially considering how hard he’s throwing. This sort of mechanical ease allows for control projection, and control is likely going to be the most influential variable impacting Alvarez’s future. I’m bullish because I like athletes and Alvarez most certainly is one.
I think there’s #2 starter ceiling here, with the chance for a 70 future fastball, 60 slider, 50 curveball, 45 changeup and 50+ control/command. Given how risky pitchers are, let alone ones as young as Alvarez, his Future Value grade is watered down a bit below his 70 ceiling. I think he’s among the top pitching prospects in baseball, a tier beneath Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias and Shohei Otani.
Other notables from Monday and Tuesday:
Francis Cespedes, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 21, Height/Weight: 6’4/195
Signed: IFA at age 18 in June of 2013 out of the Dominican Republic by TEX for $750,000 bonus
Cespedes sat 91-94 and flashed a plus changeup in the 82-84 mph range. He warmed up with a breaking ball, as well, but I didn’t see one against an actual hitter so it’s hard to really nail down a complete projection. Cespedes has a very rotational delivery, unwinding like a corkscrew from his lower half on up, and some violence in the arm action. He struggles with control and is already 21 — though still physically projectable — but still not at a full-season affiliate. Cespedes is emblematic of the arms the Dodgers have littered throughout their system. While he’s very interesting, his age and (lack of) proximity to the majors make him a bit of a long shot. Still, it’s odd that the Dodgers were able to find an arm like this on the scrapheap. I haven’t been able to confirm why/when Texas released Cespedes.
Antonio Santillan, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 19, Height/Weight: 6’4/240
Drafted: Second round (49th overall) by CIN, signed for $1.35 million
Santillan has consistently been 93-96 and touching 97 this spring. Monday was no different. He’s gotten himself into much better shape than we saw last year and he’s throwing more strikes. Although I still have some concerns about stamina and long-term strike-throwing ability, Santillan has made significant strides in this area already after being horrendously wild in last year’s AZL. The slider will flash plus in the 84-87 mph range and Santillan has been consistently locating it either in the strike zone or beneath it. He’s still more likely to end up in relief than in a rotation, but I think Santillan and the Reds have improved his chances of making a 200-inning impact in just a few short months.
Moises Nova, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 20.3, Height/Weight: 6’3/190
Nova sat 91-96 with a below-average upper-70s curveball, a short mid-80s slider with some late bite and fading mid-80s changeup. He opens his hips early and hard and lands wide open, which makes it hard for him to throw strikes because his delivery is so off line, but when he does, especially with the fastball, it’s pretty nasty. Nova is probably just a relief prospect, an arm-strength lottery ticket who you hope develops an impact secondary pitch — probably the changeup — and viable reliever control.
Melvin Adon, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 21.9, Height/Weight: 6’3/200
Adon sat 94-97 with ease but struggled to throw strikes for most of the outing. There was a stretch in the middle of the start during which Adon hit his spots with not just the fastball, but with his slider as well. The slider was 82-86 with a good amount of horizontal movement. It was generally fringe-average but flashed above and was used impressively in one particular sequence to a left-handed hitter where Adon back-doored a slider for strike one, ran a 95-mph fastball up and in for a swinging strike two, and then earned a swinging strike three on a well-placed back-foot slider. Adon also has a well-below average changeup in the mid-80s. This package is raw for a soon-to-be 22-year-old, but arm strength like this is worth monitoring.
Cristopher Molina, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Current Level: Extended Spring Training, Age: 19.9, Height/Weight: 6’3/170
In a system without much in the way of prospects, a projectable strike thrower who touches 92 is of note. Molina was mostly 90-92 with a below average mid-80s changeup and either two separate breaking balls or one breaking ball that has inconsistent shape to its break. I saw breaking balls anywhere from 77 to 82, flashing fringe-average a few times. It’s not sexy, but you can count the number of arms in the Angels system with 60 fastball projection on one hand.
Dodgers Ephemera: Dodgers J2 bonus babies Starling Heredia and Ronny Brito are clearly talented but raw. Heredia is struggling with breaking-ball recognition right now, has hit weight on his front foot very early and is swinging over the top of fringe curveballs. Brito looks fine defensively, but his hands have an awful lot of start and stop to them as his swing gets going and he’s loading his hands really high. We’re talking about teenagers here, both of whom probably have a half decade of development ahead of them before they even sniff the big leagues, and thus plenty of time to iron these things out.
Venezuelan OF Romer Cuadrado, who signed for $750,00 during the 2014-2015 J2 period, is now 18 and looks like a college tight end at 6-foot4 and about 200 pounds. He has impressive raw strength (he homers to right field in this video) and a swing geared to tap into it, but will have to hit all the way up the ladder to profile in a corner.
Newly acquired RHP Cody Buckel was 89-91 with an 85-87 mph cutter, low-80s slider, mid-70s curveball. Everything was a 40 or 45 on the scale and he lived around the strike zone, but not in it.
Converted shortstop and now RHP Jose Santos is already 24 and just learning how to pitch, but he has ridiculous arm acceleration and was 92-96 with an upper-80s slider. Shape of the slider is inconsistent but it flashes above-average, especially when it’s sinking more than it’s cutting. The fastball plays down a little bit because Santos is short and doesn’t get great extension out in front, which causes the fastball come in flat.
Angels Ephemera: Jahmai Jones is the best prospect in the Angels system and looked great again on Tuesday. He squared up a 96 mph Adon fastball and drove it into the outfield for what would be a routine single for most hitters but was a stretch double for Jones. He’s a plus runner who looks fine in center field and projects to stay there despite having a somewhat stocky and mature running-back build. Jones doesn’t have great plate coverage because his levers are short and he can be vulnerable on the outer half, especially against well-placed sliders. Even if he’s just an average hitter with fringe-average power, he’s an everyday player in center field.
SS Julio Garcia has made some impressive defensive plays this spring and could be a plus defender at short. He’s added some weight and has better control of the bat than he did last summer when he made his stateside debut. His left-handed swing now has some pretty aggressive loft. If he shows the ability to hit for power this summer, he’ll surge up the Angels org list.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.