After years of waiting, Dariel Alvarez might have a new path to a permanent place on the Baltimore Orioles major league roster. Starting this year, the Orioles will experiment with putting the longtime outfield prospect on the mound, believing his arm strength could help him become a major league pitcher.
The Orioles recently optioned Alvarez to the minors, opening up the possibility that he eventually joins a full-season minor league affiliate as a pitcher. While it has been mentioned that he may still receive the opportunity to DH on occasion, the move to the mound comes as the Orioles try to sort through their depth in the majors and high minor leagues.
Coming into spring training, it was clear that Alvarez had his work cut out for him if he was going to stand out against a crowded crop of outfield options. Since being signed by the Orioles as an amateur free agent in 2013, Alvarez has accumulated a respectable but unspectacular .293/.324/.434 triple-slash line across 1767 plate appearances, most of which have occurred at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. Hist 35 plate appearances over the last two seasons account for his time in the majors.
Entering camp, the Orioles had Hyun Soo Kim, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith among their outfield options, along with Joey Rickard, Rule 5 Draft selections Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander, as well as several non-roster invitees. The club added to that mix recently by bringing Pedro Alvarez back into the fold, with the returning Oriole possibly seeing action in the outfield after spending his entire career as an infielder and DH.
The decision to move Dariel Alvarez to the mound has some precedent within the Orioles’ ranks, as the club has previously converted Mychal Givens from shortstop to pitcher. The parallels are striking—both were intriguing offensive prospects who did not deliver on their potential at the plate, but had the arm strength to make the Orioles believe a move to the mound was possible.
It should be noted, however, that there are some differences between the two situations. Givens made the move to the mound at a much younger age, making his professional pitching debut as a reliver at Low-A Delmarva as a 23-year-old in 2013. Alvarez, meanwhile, turned 28 over the offseason, and had more success as a minor league hitter than Givens.
The other factor is how Alvarez fits into the long-term roster crunch. The Orioles placed him on the 40-man roster in 2015, and he has options for both 2017 and 2018. Givens, for his part, was not on the 40-man roster when his conversion took place, and was only added during the 2016 campaign, despite the fact that he was Rule-5 eligible after the 2014 season.
The biggest question for Alvarez is what will come next. Orioles manager Buck Showalter told The Baltimore Sun last week that Alvarez will still be allowed to work as a hitter, even as the club continues to explore the possibility of making him a pitcher. The Orioles have not finalized a decision on where he will begin the season—they optioned him to Norfolk upon sending him to minor league camp, but that does not commit them to placing him there on Opening Day. Even at that, it would seem unlikely that Alvarez’s first innings in regular season action would come at the Triple-A level, making Delmarva or Frederick more realistic possibilities.
If Alvarez, who had some experience on the mound in Cuba before signing with the Orioles, does make it onto a minor league roster early in the year, his first stop might not be his last, as a solid few weeks at a lower level could prompt a promotion. It also makes sense to have Alvarez work his way into the position as a reliever which, if he is used properly, will ensure that he does not risk overextending himself early in the season.
Beyond that, the Orioles have to balance their approach. Undertaking a change such as this requires some patience, and the Orioles previously exhibited that with Givens. Remember the aforementioned fact that Givens was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft months before being added to the Orioles 40-man roster? In the fall of 2014, when the Orioles left him off the 40-man, he was weeks removed from a season in which he had a 3.53 ERA and 6 BB/9 rate in 58.2 innings between Frederick and Bowie, making it easy to see why any team would have hesitated to commit a roster spot.
Of course, the Orioles and Alvarez have to contend with time constraints. The can option Alvarez in 2017 and 2018, but it would be understandable if the team wants to prevent a situation in which he is on the roster bubble as his options wind down.
With that, there is one possible track Alvarez could follow if the move to the mound becomes a permanent decision. After starting the year at either Delmarva or Frederick, he could in a position to reach Bowie by late 2017 or early 2018, putting a major league debut during the latter season within reach. At that point, the Orioles could know by 2019 whether Alvarez is worthy of a spot in either their bullpen or rotation.
Over time, this experiment could prove to be short lived or the Orioles might strike once again have success with their decision to move an athletic position player to the mound. With the current circumstances likely limiting his chances of reaching the majors as an outfielder, it is easy to see why the Orioles are intrigued by the idea of converting Alvarez to pitching.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues. Co-Host of The Verge: https://anchor.fm/the-verge