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Viva El Birdos Cardinals Top Prospects: #24 Eliezer Alvarez

Second baseman had a fantastic year in 2016

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants
Alvarez looks a lot like this guy so far
Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#24: Eliezer Alvarez, INF

5’11”, 165 lbs; S/R; 15 October 1994

Relevant Stats: 159 wRC+, 36/51 SB, 10.6% BB, 19.2% K, .400 BABIP, .152 ISO (Low A)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Simply put, Eliezer Alvarez can really hit. He can really run, too. The questions about him almost all revolve around physical projection and position.

Interesting point of order: we are now on player number three of the actual list of top Cardinal prospects (according to just one poorly-informed observer, admittedly, but still), and so far we are three for three in players with extremely intriguing tools or skills, but who are undersized, lack real physical projection, and for whom the biggest question is whether or not said player will ever be strong enough to compete at the highest level of the game. Probably a coincidence, but one I was just struck by all the same.

Here’s the thing: I’m really hoping, and at least somewhat expecting, to look completely silly with this ranking by this time next year. I’m hoping that Alvarez moves up one level — or perhaps even skips Palm Beach, as has been the case with several of the Cardinals’ top hitting prospects over the past couple years — and does exactly what he did this year, shows off the tools once again, and my rating of 24 looks preposterously low in hindsight. He certainly has the athletic abilities to make my ranking look silly; Alvarez has 60-65 grade speed, more natural pop than you might think on first glance, in a slashing, gap to gap sort of way, and was named the top defensive second baseman in the Midwest League this year by Baseball America. All of those things put together have the potential to make me look really late to the Eli party.

However, I’ve seen Alvarez play, and I’m still skeptical for some reason. I don’t know why, exactly, but I am. Obviously, he’s not going to keep up a .400 BABIP, but even when that comes down, if he’s walking at the rate he did this season and plugging the gaps with doubles, there’s no problem. But I’m not convinced the glove is as good as it was rated; the games I saw of Peoria’s this year I saw a middle infield guy who couldn’t figure out whether to charge or sit back, and ended up with a whole bunch of in-between hops as a result. The arm didn’t impress me either, though I admit that’s really tough to judge in fairly limited viewing.

I will say this: I don’t have much in the way of concerns about his ability to hit. That BABIP was flukily high, but we also know that, paradoxically, a high BABIP in the low minors actually translates well up the ladder, even as the BABIP normalises. The reason, of course, is because while at the big league level everyone’s true talent level is fairly tightly grouped, once you go down a couple levels, that’s no longer the case. A .400 BABIP in Low A can mean a hitter was getting lucky; it can also mean, as it did with Oscar Taveras in 2011, that the hitter in question is simply too good for the level and is knocking the hell out of the ball far more often than you’ll see at higher levels.

Alvarez is 22 already, so he isn’t amazingly young, particularly for a prospect in the Midwest League. Young for the league, yes. Young for a top prospect, not really.

I liked Allen Cordoba better as an infield prospect, because I thought he and Alvarez had similar hit tools, but with a bit of an edge for Cordoba in terms of pitch recognition and zone control. I also thought Cordoba had a chance to stick at shortstop, which Alvarez already does not play. Honestly, though, the two players aren’t all that far apart, really are quite similar apart from handedness, and if there’s one thing I can say for sure about Eli Alvarez, it’s that he can really hit. Which, yes, I already said. I think it bears repeating, though.

The coming season is going to be a huge one for Alvarez. Long touted as a toolsy player who just needed to start putting all the pieces together, he had his most complete season yet in 2016. If he starts off 2017 the way he did this past season, he jumps up prospect lists by midseason and is probably in the top ten. If not, well, a utility infielder who can hit a little bit isn’t the worst thing in the world to have.

Player Comp: Honestly, potential future Cards second baseman Eli Alvarez comps pretty well to Cards current second baseman Kolten Wong. Both are somewhat undersized middle infielders who lack the arm to play short and whose most notable tool is bat speed that jumps off the page.

via JW Fisher: