Henderson Alvarez first generated buzz two years ago with low Class A Lansing, where he dominated Midwest League batters as a 19-year old with his plus changeup.
Now 21, the Blue Jays righthander is once again turning heads. While his changeup remains a plus pitch, Alvarez’s fastball is what’s turning heads these days in Double-A New Hampshire.
Fisher Cats pitching coach Pete Walker said Alvarez has touched 101 mph this year and sits at 96-100, a significant improvement from the 92-94 he was throwing in high Class A Dunedin last season.
“He has a 98 mph fastball with depth,” Walker said. “It’s pretty fun to watch. Standing behind him in the bullpen watching his stuff, you know it’s special.”
Alvarez’s newfound velocity has served him well this year. He suffered from arm soreness near the end of spring training, so the Blue Jays held him in Dunedin for two starts, waiting for the weather to warm up in Manchester. He made his Double-A debut on May 20, striking out six hitters in six innings.
He has dominated the Eastern League ever since. In seven starts, Alvarez is 4-2, 2.30 with a 0.95 WHIP. He hasn’t racked up many strikeouts, 27 in 43 innings, but he produces plenty of groundballs. Walker says his fastball has “devastating sink,” which allows him to be very efficient on the mound.
“He gets a lot of weak contact and forces early contact,” the pitching coach said. “He doesn’t use a lot of pitches.”
Alvarez made his best start of the season Tuesday, pitching seven shutout innings against Altoona. He struck out five and allowed just two hits. Alvarez faced 23 batters, and Walker said he needed only about 80 pitches to pick up the victory.
The biggest thing Walker is working with Alvarez on is his breaking ball. Alvarez throws both a curveball and a slider, but neither is an especially good pitch for him yet.
“They’re both works in progress,” Walker said. “Once he really refines his breaking ball he’ll be ready to pitch in the majors and have a lot of success.”
Until then Alvarez will remain in New Hampshire, working to find a more consistent third pitch to attack hitters with.
“He’s what I consider electric,” Walker said. “I’d just like to see his breaking ball refined.”