After signing one Cuban defector, Henry Urrutia, in July of 2012 the O's double-dipped in the market with the signing of Alvarez a year later to an $800k deal. Choosing to avoid the seemingly high prices of fellow Cuban superstars such as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasil Puig, or Jorge Soler the O's targeted the second level of Cuban talent with Urrutia and Alvarez. While the value provided vs. the contracts given for Cespedes, Puig, and Soler are looking to be huge bargins, Urrutia and Alvarez have the chance to provide a similar value:cost ratio, but on a much smaller level.
Coming into the 2014 season whatever prospect status one assigned to Alvarez was aided greatly by the fact that the Orioles system was, frankly, bereft of highly regarded talent among outfielders. Josh Hart was just removed from high school, Glynn Davis was all speed with a questionable bat, and Mike Yastrzemski was still a relative wild card coming out of college. One could rightfully judge Alvarez, with his 6 seasons in the Cuban National Series league, as the most polished player of the bunch. But polish does not equal upside, and the judgement of the prospect write-up world was that Alvarez would likely end up a 4th outfielder who could play all 3 outfield positions and mash a fastball, but would be susceptible to the quality of major league breaking pitches.
After a brief and successful foray with Frederick in 2013, Alvarez was promoted to Bowie for the final week and a half of the season. Though he had a dreadful go of things over a 9 game sample he was slated to start off his 2014 season back with the Baysox. And homeboy wasn't messin' around this time. He teamed up with Christian Walker to form a formidable and fearsome heart of the order, putting up a slash line of .361 / .370 / .567 during April. In May he showcased his power, hitting 6 doubles, a triple, and 7 home runs. June was a month long struggle for him, but he showed signs of recovery as July began before ascending to AAA Norfolk along with Walker midway through the month. While with Norfolk he showed decent contact abilities throughout by hitting .301, progressed in his ability to draw walks (7 of his 8 AAA walks coming in August), but suffered a power decline (.439 SLG) as so many do in the spacious confines of Harbor Park.
His ultimate talent as a hitter is to be determined. The contact ability demonstrated throughout 2014 is certainly welcome, as well as the power. But AA and AAA pitching is not major league pitching, so time will tell if he can handle better breaking balls and faster fastballs. He certainly did show a platoon split, OPSing .888 vs. southpaws and .763 vs. righties. Perhaps he could form a nice platoon with David Lough or a left-handed hitting free agent in LF next season?
What is not in doubt is his defensive chops. Buck and Co. have made clear throughout this season that a player hoping to see time in Baltimore must be able to field. And Alvarez certainly can do that, particularly if he is going to be placed in a corner spot with Adam Jones holding down center for the foreseeable future. Alvarez's greatest tool is clearly his arm, which is capable of firing baseballs like a railgun, with which he accrued 14 OF Assists over the course of the season. More than capable of handling RF, if the O's put him in LF he will quickly become the bane of batters attempting to stretch a single into a double or score from 2B on a ground ball.
With the likely departure of Nelson Cruz this off-season, and the unlikely but still possible departure of Nick Markakis, the Orioles will be looking for a new corner outfielder. Alvarez could certainly (at least partially) fit the bill with above average defensive chops if he can hit enough. Look for him to be given a long look during spring training. And whenever a ball is hit to him with a runner in scoring position, keep your eyes glued to the tv, 'cause his arm is a thing of beauty.