While it isn't yet official, it's looking like today is finally the day that Dariel Alvarez will be joining the Orioles. If Roch and the other MASN folks are to be believed, Alvarez will join the club in Texas and most likely replace the extra man in the current eight-man bullpen. The 26-year-old from Cuba has been discussed as a potential starting outfielder since pretty much the day Nick Markakis signed with Atlanta, and he was even seemingly in the mix for the opening day spot before the trade for Travis Snider. It's a bit surprising that it's taken the Birds this long to give him a shot, especially considering the clown show that has been the Orioles outfield this season.
Now that he's here, let's get to know Alvarez a little better. The O's signed him in July of 2013 for $800k after he successfully defected from Cuba in January of that same year. He reported to rookie ball and proceeded to mash there and in Frederick for about a month before making it to Bowie for the final two weeks of the season. In 2014, Alvarez returned to Bowie and hit .309/.332/.487 in 91 games, earning a call-up to AAA. He continued hitting the ball well for the rest of the year, finishing with a .301/.328/.439 line in 44 Norfolk games.
With those numbers, it's no surprise why Alvarez' name was coming up as a possible Markakis replacement in 2015. However, the O's chose to send him back to triple-A after spring training wrapped up. He probably still would have been one of the first call-ups this year if not for a very slow start to the season at the plate. At the end of May he was OPSing only .632, but he's picked that up to .789 since June 1st. In total he's hitting .275/.305/.424, although it's worth noting that his BABIP is about 60 points less than it was in 2014. Because of that, he actually has the exact same wRC+ (109) as he did last year, despite his less impressive-looking slash numbers.
When the Orioles signed Alvarez back in 2013 they touted him as someone who could play all three outfield positions. I've not read a single thing written by a non-Orioles employee to back that up - the consensus opinion is that his lack of speed makes him a corner outfielder exclusively. One thing everyone agrees on is his arm; nearly every scouting report mentions he has a cannon and he was given a 70 grade for his arm in the pre-season writeup on Fangraphs.
At the plate, Alvarez has an above-average ability to put the bat on the ball. He doesn't strike out much - his K rate in 2015 (11.6%) and 2014 (11.0%) are nearly half the current MLB average of around 20%. Unfortunately he also doesn't walk much, either - he has a Jonesian 3.0 BB% this season and 3.7% in 2014 (MLB average is about 7.5%). Power-wise, Alvarez has stepped up his game this year. His 16 bombs have already bested his 15 from last season, and that 2014 total is a little skewed by playing in a homer-friendly Bowie park. Norfolk is a pretty strong pitcher's park, so those 16 homers look even better.
Scouting reports generally credit Alvarez with average power at best, but give him above average contact skills. With his lack of walks or strikeouts and average power, he's basically the opposite of a "three true outcomes" hitter: he puts the ball in play a LOT. If the improved power he's flashed this year is for real, though, Alvarez has a much better chance of being a starting-caliber corner outfielder in the majors. Picking up the walks a bit would be a huge help too.
Alvarez's performance over the next month could have some major implications for what the team does with the outfield heading into 2016. If he plays well, he may be starting on Opening Day in right field. Plus it's the Orioles, so even if he doesn't play well they'll probably offer Gerardo Parra something like $12 million total over 3 years and end up starting Alvarez next year anyway. We haven't had much to be excited about lately in Birdland, but we should all be rooting for Alvarez to live up to his potential this September. We may be seeing a lot more of him in 2016.