First it was Colby Rasmus, then Brett Lawrie and now Henderson Alvarez.
The Blue Jays' recent infusion of youth continued Tuesday with Toronto management selecting the contract of the 21-year-old Alvarez, a six-foot-one right-hander who has shone this season with AA New Hampshire.
Alvarez will make his major league Wednesday night against lefty Gio Gonzalez and the visiting Oakland Athletics.
Book on Henderson Alvarez
- Age: 21
- Hometown: Valencia, Venezuela
- Position: Starting pitcher
- Height: 6-foot-1
- Weight: 195 pounds
- Team: Toronto Blue Jays
- MLB seasons: Major league debut on Aug. 10
- Minor leagues: 2011 (New Hampshire, AA; Class-A Dunedin), 2010 (Class-A Dunedin), 2009 (Lansing, A-ball), 2008 (Blue Jays, rookie league)
- Drafted: At age 16, signed as international free agent
- Pitching repertoire: Fastball, changeup, slider
In 14 starts with the Fisher Cats, Alvarez fashioned an 8-5 record, one complete game and 2.86 earned-run average. He opened the season at Class-A Dunedin and went 0-1 with a 6.46 ERA in the Florida State League.
Alvarez has been particularly sharp over his past five starts, going 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA.
According to some in the industry, the native of Valencia, Venezuela entered the season with an uncertain future.
Alvarez, whom the Jays signed as a 16-year-old international free agent on Oct. 17, 2006, has two legitimate pitches — a devastating changeup and a fastball that has jumped from the low 90s miles per hour to the mid-90s this season. It has translated to a strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of 6.8, Alvarez's highest since he pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2007.
"[He] has refined his mechanics and he is attacking the strike zone," New Hampshire pitching coach Pete Walker told Batter's Box interactive magazine in a recent interview. "He has a tremendous fastball and he is using his fastball predominantly and I think once he gets more command and control of his breaking stuff you will see the punchouts go up."
Lacking 3rd pitch
But without a solid third pitch — Alvarez's slider has been deemed by many as a work in progress — there is talk whether he could carve out a long major league career.
Former Blue Jays front-office employee Keith Law, now with ESPN.com, appears to be a believer. He had Alvarez ranked 39th among his top 50 midseason major league prospects after leaving him off his top-100 list in January, and says the hard-throwing pitcher has No. 1 starter stuff.
"He's always had a plus changeup and plus control, but his fastball has gained a grade in each of the past two seasons," wrote Law, who worked as a major and minor league scout and contract negotiator, among other roles, in his four years with the Jays.
A ground ball machine, Alvarez reportedly reached 101 mph in a mid-June start, and has allowed a spectacular 0.7 home runs per nine innings, which is slightly above his average over five minor league seasons.
Alvarez has pitched 96 1/3 innings in 2011 after throwing 112 1/3 a year ago, so there's a chance he could remain in the Toronto rotation for the balance of the season.
From there, he could become a fixture to open the 2012 campaign — either as a starter or perhaps the answer to the team's closer woes — or part of an off-season trade if his potential seven-week audition with the Blue Jays is a success.
To make room for Alvarez on the active roster, the Jays have outrighted left-handed relief pitcher Wil Ledezma to the AAA Las Vegas 51s.
Ledezma, 30, had a 9.00 ERA in two games for Toronto, covering three innings pitched. He was 1-1 earlier this season with Vegas, where he had a 4.63 ERA in 34 relief appearances.