By Contributing Writer: Nick Stevens
A select group of Baltimore Orioles’ pitchers returned to work this week with a three-day minicamp in Sarasota, Florida. The group of 16 pitchers was a mixed bag of Rule 5 draft picks making their Orioles’ debut, AA/AAA pitchers in need of a breakout 2018, and pitchers set to ramp up their throwing programs after returning from various injuries.
Photo: Patrick Cavey
One pitcher of note is RHP Dariel Alvarez. Fans may have forgotten, but the former outfield slugger was switched to the mound during spring training of last year. Just weeks later, Alvarez found himself back home, recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Many major league franchises looked to sign Alvarez as a pitcher coming out of Cuba over five years ago. He pitched to a 3.62 earned run average and had an 18/12 K/BB ratio in 32 innings of work as a reliever before coming to the United States (from Roch Kubatko). The Orioles decided to play him in the outfield after evaluators graded his arm as “double-plus.”
He quickly worked his way up to AAA Norfolk, where he appeared in 304 games, hitting 21 home runs and 79 doubles (leading the International League with 38 in 2016) over parts of three seasons. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old prospect faced stiff competition in the outfield. Younger prospects such as Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Anthony Santander, and others, were inevitably going to bury Alvarez on the depth chart. If Alvarez was make an impact at the major league level, it wasn’t going to be offensively.
Other than side bullpen sessions with the Orioles, we aren’t sure what Alvarez brings to the mound. What we do know is that the Orioles believe Alvarez will have an easier path to the majors as a bullpen pitcher. He can hit 97 mph on the radar gun, but can he miss bats? Does he have control of any secondary pitches?
According to beat writers, Rich Dubroff, Roch Kubatko, and Joe Meoli, who were at the three-day minicamp, Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter likes Dariel Alvarez and his ability to pitch. On the final day of camp, the coaching staff said that Alvarez will begin throwing off flat ground by the end of January and that Alvarez has finally accepted his new role in baseball after being initially reluctant.
Kubatko reported earlier this week that Alvarez is expected begin 2018 out of the bullpen for the Delmarva Shorebirds. He will also serve as part-time designated hitter as part of the agreement Alvarez and the Orioles reached during the early stages of his transition process.
The Orioles have experience with this sort of experiment. Take a look at current Oriole, Mychal Givens (career 18-3, 2.75 ERA, 222 K’s, 183 IP). Givens was selected 54th overall in the 2009 draft in hopes of being the shortstop of the future. He was on his way to joining 48 of the 50 selections in that year’s draft, out of Baltimore or out of baseball completely. (With 50th round pick Tim Berry now a minor league free agent, Givens is the only ‘09 draft pick with the team)
Baltimore has done a tremendous job of transforming Givens from a failing infielder to one of the best bullpen arms in the American League. I’m not saying Alvarez will experience the same success, we haven’t seen him throw a pitch. However, Tommy John is out of the way and Alvarez can start from scratch, knowing the program has worked before.
Stay tuned to @BabyBirdland, @CoachNick_14, and @CABoemmelJR as we keep you updated on Dariel Alvarez and the rest of the Orioles’ farm system.