The Tampa Bay Rays have not been around for long enough to become known for many things, but they have become synonymous with dominant left-handed pitching nonetheless. It started with Scott Kazmir, and then a pitcher named David Price came along. Matt Moore has since followed, and others like Drew Smyly and Enny Romero have a chance to join the group as well. However, we have to wait until Moore returns from Tommy John Surgery, and it’s more likely that Smyly and Romero fall short of that standard (although Smyly could be very good nonetheless). With that in mind, if we are looking for a lefty pitcher in the system in the organization whose upside gives us the most to dream on right now, the answer is a pitcher you probably have not yet heard of: Jose Alvarado.
Alvarado is a 19 year old coming off a season in the Gulf Coast League. His numbers were solid, but certainly not spectacular as he went 1-5 with a 3.79 ERA and a 46-29 strikeout to walk ratio in 40 innings pitched. Why should we care about this guy? Well, the big thing to notice from those statistics is that he struck out well over a batter per inning, and that hints at what makes Alvarado so intriguing.
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Baseball America ranked Jose Alvarado the #17 prospect in the Gulf Coast League, and he is just getting started. They note that Alvarado has grown 2 inches and gained 30 pounds in the last two years, giving him a good pitcher’s frame at 6’2″, 210 and taking his stuff to the next level. His fastball touches as high as 97 MPH with excellent late bite, helping him to force weak contact and miss bats. His curveball is a sharp breaker that has emerged as a weapon for now and a plus pitch for the future. As is the case with many young pitchers, Alvarado’s changeup needs work, but he ended up in an organization renowned for developing offspeed pitches. Alvarado is a while way from getting there, but he has the ingredients to be a big league ace with more development.
Like Kazmir, Moore, and Romero before him, Alvarado has some major control issues to work through. There is certainly no guarantee that he will be able to do that. One major advantage he has over Romero, though, is how much earlier his physical maturity has taken place. The Rays waited for years for Romero to fill out and start harnessing his mechanics, but he only reached 6’3″, 210 when he was 23 years of age. Alvarado might grow another inch and add a few pounds, but he will have two or three more years to learn how to pitch as a bigger, stronger pitcher, and that clearly helps his chances.
Where Jose Alvarado starts next season in the Rays system will tell us a lot about how far along he is in his development. Do the Rays see enough polish to jump him to Low-A Bowling Green, or will he be back in extended spring training before heading to Short Season-A Hudson Valley? No matter what they choose, however, Alvarado’s talent makes him a pitcher to watch in the system and a name to file away for the future. Anything can happen between now and when Jose Alvarado makes the major leagues, but the possibilities are as exciting for him as they have been for any Rays pitcher in quite a while.