Offensively, there was not a person more important to the success of the 2016 Peoria Chiefs than Eliezer Alvarez. The second baseman led the team in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage this season with a slash line of .323/.404/.476. With those numbers alone, it is not difficult to make the argument that Alvarez was the best hitter on the team and therefore, The Cardinal Nation’s Peoria Chiefs Player of the Year for 2016.
The Dominican was among the best in the Class-A Midwest League, too. Alvarez finished fourth overall in average, second in OBP and third in slugging as he established himself as arguably the best hitter in the entire league.
Alvarez began the season as the Chiefs’ leadoff hitter, and given his ability to get on base with ease, it seemed to be a great fit. However, when the 21-year-old began to flash impressive bat speed and power, manager Joe Kruzel realized Peoria needed Alvarez’s power potential in the heart of the lineup.
No matter where he hit in the order, Alvarez terrorized opposing pitchers. Though he had a habit of striking out a little too much (19.2 percent), the Dominican quickly learned how to take pitches and have a quality at-bat without necessarily having to get a hit.
Alvarez had to miss some time in July after being hit by a pitch in the head, and his absence in the lineup had an obvious impact. The Dominican was a doubles machine as he led the team with 36, so without the threat of his speed and power, the Chiefs lineup was inefficient and one-dimensional. Specifically, while he was out, from July 23 through August 5, Peoria won just five of 13 contests.
The second baseman was selected to the Midwest All-Star Team in June, to no one’s surprise. Alvarez is a legitimate five-tool player, and he put almost every tool to great use this season. Though he made a few too many defensive mistakes (team-leading 27 errors), Alvarez showed amazing defensive prowess at times.
As long as Alvarez continues to play his game and produce high-quality results, he should continue to quickly move up through the Cardinals organization.
Though the choice of Alvarez may seem obvious, another Chief ranked in the top-20 in the MWL in average, slugging and OBP. Chris Chinea had a fabulous year as he hit .312 with a .350 OBP and .423 slugging percentage. Chinea served as the best protection to Alvarez this year and routinely hit behind him in the lineup, tying for the team lead with 63 RBI.
Chinea may lack Alvarez’ tools, but the catcher-first baseman has better plate discipline than the slick second baseman. Chinea struck out less in comparison to the rest of the Chiefs regulars (15.6 percent vs. the team mark of 18.9 percent), and especially Alvarez. The LSU alum was great at putting the ball in play and executing in important situations.
Chinea missed a bit of the season early on with an injury, and when he came back, his impact was felt immensely. It was his presence in the lineup that started to spur Peoria toward a hot streak in June and the first-half division title.
Magneuris Sierra also garners some recognition attention. Defensively, the center fielder was one of the best players in the league. Offensively, the Dominican was incredibly streaky, but his best month was in August as the season neared its end. The 20-year old finished the year with an overall .307 average, a .335 OBP and .395 slugging percentage.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the cross-organization rookie Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Players of the Year.
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