One of the problems with signing top free agents tied to draft pick compensation is…well….the draft pick compensation. After signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels did not have a draft choice in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft until the third round, where they drafted R.J. Alvarez, a right handed pitcher from Florida Atlantic University. Yet, despite the lateness of the draft pick, Alvarez may turn out to be a valuable relief option for the Angels in the near future.
Alvarez began his minor league career with a strong showing for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League in 2012, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.29 ERA and a strikeout to walk rate of 3.45 to 1. In his 27.1 innings, Alvarez struck out 38 batters while allowing only 22 hits. While his batting average on balls in play against was a bit higher than league average at .317, but that was mitigated by a low line drive rate of 13.2%. Essentially, Alvarez was able to counteract his higher than normal batting average against by inducing weak contact and getting routine flyballs.
With the Inland Empire 66ers of the California League last season, R.J. Alvarez put together the same type of season as he did the year before. Alvarez produced a 4-2 record with four saves and a 2.96 ERA, striking out 79 batters in 48.2 innings of work. He struggled a bit with his control, as his strikeout to walk rate decreased to 2.96 to 1, giving up 27 walks last season. Once again, Alvarez had a higher than average batting average against at .327, but he once again was not hit particularly hard, helping to control those problems.
Considered by Baseball America to be the Angels fourth best prospect heading into the 2014 season, Alvarez is likely to begin the season with the AA Arkansas Travelers. If Alvarez continues to be the dominant strikeout pitcher that he has been thus far, he could quickly find himself in the mix for a role in the Angels bullpen, perhaps as soon as during the 2015 season. Right now, the biggest concern for Alvarez may be his control problems. If he is able to cut down on those walks, while continuing to strike out batters at the rate he has, Alvarez could be quite the weapon in the back end of the Angels bullpen.
R.J. Alvarez has, thus far in his minor league career, displayed the potential to be a solid setup man in the near future. If he is able to improve his control, Alvarez may even become a candidate to close for the Angels should Ernesto Frieri depart.