Alvarez pitching beyond his years

SURPRISE, Ariz. - Richard Alvarez's 5.73 ERA with the AZL Rangers this summer isn't spectacular, but his maturity and raw stuff ranks among the best in the league. Lone Star Dugout profiles the 17-year-old prospect.

In recent years, the July 2 international signing date has become a big event for many baseball fans.

The Texas Rangers have acquired more than a handful of prospects—including Martin Perez and Wilmer Font—right around the July 2 signing period.

But not all of the players sign during the summer.

Right-hander Richard Alvarez, for instance, was not eligible to sign because he didn't turn 16 years old until August 14, 2008.

When he became eligible, the Rangers were eventually able to ink Alvarez, signing him for a bonus of approximately $800,000 on December 1st. Alvarez was arguably the club's most talented haul in last year's Latin market, but his signing wasn't covered because it occurred during the offseason.

Money clearly played a large factor in Alvarez's signing with Texas, but he also enjoyed the atmosphere around the organization.

"During the tryouts and that lengthy process," Alvarez said, through a translator, "I liked the feel of Texas' workouts and the people and the coaches. Everyone around it. It was more like a family and a team I could learn and grow with."

The vast majority of young Latin signees spend at least one season playing in the Dominican Summer League before they even see the Rangers' minor league complex in Surprise.

Each year, one or two elite talents skip the DSL entirely and go straight to Arizona.

Given Alvarez's hefty bonus, his assignment to Arizona shouldn't have been a shock. But having recently turned 16, he was one of the youngest professional baseball players in the United States.

Alvarez says the Rangers made that clear to him from the start.

"They told me when I signed that I would be one of the youngest guys, probably for the entire season, since I have such a late birthday," he said. "I wasn't scared. It's no big deal for me."

When most Latin players are brought to the Rangers' complex, it's their first visit to the United States.

Once again, Alvarez isn't most players. The Venezuela native actually starred in the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

"It was a good experience, and it was beautiful," said Alvarez. "It was the first time I'd ever been to the United States."

Alvarez performed well on the big stage, too.

"Back in those days, I was also a hitter," he explained. "I pitched against Curacao and shut them down. I also hit a grand slam in that game. And I pitched against Japan and hit a two-run home run."

The pitcher Alvarez faced from Curacao?

"The pitcher from Curacao that day just signed with Texas for more than a million dollars," he said. "They signed him as a shortstop. Jurickson Profar."

Alvarez actually saw Profar working out with the Rangers at their facility in the Dominican Republic in January.

It was the January program that helped the young hurler prepare for his first professional Spring Training.

Alvarez turned 17 last Friday.
"When I came to Spring Training, it was obviously my first so it was a big deal," Alvarez said. "But there were so many Latin guys that I knew from the January program and all that stuff in the fall in the Dominican, I had a great time and I didn't really have to adjust at all. I knew a lot of people."

Alvarez impressed onlookers at his first Spring Training, flashing the ability to throw all three of his pitches for strikes.

Near the end of his first professional season, Alvarez is still throwing strikes with above-average stuff. Although he has a 5.73 earned-run average in 33 innings, he has surrendered just 35 hits while walking 14 and striking out 27.

Alvarez turned 17 just last week. His results have been inconsistent—spectacular at times, rough at others. That's to be expected.

Overall, the prospect is happy with his first season.

"All year I've felt great," he said. "I've had a couple of innings where they've hit me pretty hard, but to me, all I want to do is attack and go after hitters.

"Sometimes you're going to get hit. As long as I keep throwing strikes, I'll have more quality outings than bad outings."

The weak link for Alvarez this season has been his usage of the 86-88 mph fastball. Alvarez has a tendency to shy away from his fastball when he begins giving up hits, but that's not uncommon for a young pitcher with advanced secondary stuff.

Alvarez is not likely to develop an overpowering fastball, but as he matures and gets stronger, he projects to work in the upper-80s and low-90s.

By far the most impressive aspects of Alvarez's game right now are his curveball and his changeup. In fact, the righty's curve may be even better than Martin Perez's at 16 years old. His changeup absolutely is.

"I always worked on my changeup," Alvarez said. "I knew that in order to be an effective pitcher at any level, you've got to have plus pitches besides your fastball. I feel that my changeup is definitely a plus pitch for me."

Down the line, Alvarez's changeup and curveball both profile as plus offerings. He also has a solid feel for pitching given his age and experience level.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect has just nine appearances on the AZL season, but he also logged a number of innings at Extended Spring Training.

With two starts remaining in his first professional campaign, Alvarez is looking for a strong finish.

"I want to stay where I'm at mentally and physically," he said. "I still feel confident even though it is late in the season and it's my first full-length season. I want to finish strong. It's not how you start, it's now you finish."

Special thanks to Michael Ortiz for translating the interview.

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