Although most of the heavy lifting has been done this winter, a general manager’s work is never done. He or she should always look for another depth player who might be able to contribute at the big-league level at some point. After all, as 2019 has shown us, those depth players may just have to fill key roles in the majors, and much sooner than one might think.
With that in mind, the Yankees have apparently shown interest in right-handed pitcher Henderson Alvarez, having sent scouts to his most recent bullpen session, according to Jon Morosi of the MLB Network...and Alvarez himself.
Former All-Star Henderson Alvarez said he reached 95 mph before #Yankees, #Royals and #Marlins scouts in this bullpen session. He spent the last two seasons at Triple-A and is looking for an @MLB camp invite. He could pitch for Venezuela in @WBSC Olympic qualifier. @MLBNetwork https://t.co/SCLgRZu20w— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 25, 2020
Originally signed as an international free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays, Alvarez, now 29, has had an up-and-down career. He posted a 4.52 ERA in 41 starts for the Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012 before being traded to the Miami Marlins as part of the Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrle mega-deal. His most successful season came with the Marlins in 2014, in which he earned an All-Star appearance, as well as a down-ballot Cy Young vote, en route to a 2.65 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 30 starts.
After being named the Marlins’ Opening Day starter in 2015, his career went off the rails. He made only four starts that year, posting an ERA over 6, before having season-ending shoulder surgery on July 28. After being non-tendered, he signed with the Oakland Athletics, with whom he never pitched a single game, as he required another shoulder surgery in September of 2016. He made his way to an 14.2 inning cameo with the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of 2017, but besides that, he has spent the last three seasons bouncing around between independent leagues in both the United States and Mexico, with a brief stint in the Washington Nationals’ farm system.
This, of course, begs the question, “Why would the Yankees look into him?” While Alvarez has struggled in his most recent stints in the majors, his batted-ball profile provides some reasons for optimism. Over the course of his career, Alvarez has generated groundballs on 54.8% of batted balls, more than ten percent higher than the league average since 2011.
He has primarily done this on the back of a 94-96 mph fastball, and a sinker that was only a hair slower at 93-94 mph. Since his shoulder surgeries, however, that velocity has noticeably decreased, falling to about 90-91 on both pitches. With that decline in velocity has come a drop in performance.
Should the report be believed, however, it appears that Alvarez has finally regained the velocity on his pitches that he had back in 2015. While this should be taken with a grain of salt—the report does originate with Alvarez’s own Twitter account—of it coincides with what the Yankees scouts saw, it might be worth taking a flier on him with a minor-league deal and an invite to spring training. When healthy, Alvarez generated groundballs at a rate among the best in the league; only Dallas Keuchel, Dakota Hudson, Luis Castillo, and Brett Anderson posted a higher groundball percentage than Alvarez’s career totals in 2019.
When it comes to depth pitchers, you could do a whole lot worse than that.