Griffin: Baseball's Futures look bright at All-Star Game
PHOENIX—It's been a long time since major-league baseball reached its all-star break riding an uplifting event like Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit. The Yankees' classy shortstop did it in style, going five-for-five on Saturday, with a home run representing the milestone safety. Only Wade Boggs among the 27 with three grand in safeties before him had ever homered for No. 3,000.
Not only was it Jeter's class act that elicited universal admiration of all present at the stadium in the Bronx, including the Rays, but there was also the classy move of the fan that caught the home run, 23-year-old Christian Lopez who handed the ball over to Jeter without asking anything in return. He got some swag from the club anyway. Whatever happened to the old days when the grand old game was dominated by greed and steroids.
However there is one caveat to current serenity that was pointed out by Players' Association chief Michael Weiner in an open letter-slash-press release and directed at the state of Arizona earlier in the week that warned of the danger presented by SB 1070, the state law passed in 2010 allowing persons suspected of being in the country illegally to be stopped at any time and asked for their proper documentation. With the huge Latin presence at the game and with all players accompanied by many family members, a shadow of concern continues to loom all week in the Valley of the Sun.
But on Sunday, all that was forgotten. It was about the future of baseball, showcasing the top minor league players in a game featuring Team USA against a World Team, the US won to take an all-time 7-6 lead in games. Including Blue Jays' pitching prospect Henderson Alvarez from Venezuela and M's righthander James Paxton, the only Canadian, from Richmond B.C. In all, there were 13 countries or territories represented in uniform.
Don't count Alvarez out of the Jays' mix for starting pitchers of the future. He is just 21-years-old and within the last 12 months has upped his fastball velocity from the low to the high 90s.
“You take the first three years, he was just learning baseball,” said Sal Fasano, currently managing Alvarez at AA-New Hampshire and a coach for the World team. “He's learning American culture. Now you look at the next three years and all of a sudden he's throwing 96-97 miles per hour. Well he's got a new toy. He has to learn how to work with it. The last few years he's made some great strides. We had a game in Trenton where he hit 101. You just don't see that.”
The Jays have shown that they are not afraid to call pitchers straight up from Double-A. They showed it with Kyle Drabek and they showed it with Zach Stewart. It's possible Alvarez, who was on the shelf when the season opened, is not that far away from the Show. He got a taste of the major-league Jays at spring training as an invited non-roster player and was a sponge for knowledge.
“Being around those guys, I learned from watching them a lot about leading in the clubhouse,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “All those guys are humble guys. Especially Jose Bautista. He's a humble person, a simple guy, a personable guy even though he's got all those home runs. Not just that, but I learned from Octavio Dotel. He's been around. He's a veteran. He gave me advice about working hard and not losing focus of the goal to get to the big leagues.”
The Jays have done the same thing with Alvarez in terms of taking pitches out of his repertoire that they did with Drabek and, to a lesser extent Brett Cecil. Fasano, a former back-up catcher with the Jays, said they have taken away his hard cutter and his curveball, leaving him with a high '90s fastball, a devastating changeup and a slider termed “a work in progress.”
“He's narrowed it down,” Fasano explained. “Now he can just master three pitches. You simplify the game. It's like a kid you put in the middle of a toy room and he's going to try and play with all the toys. Is he going to learn how to play with all of them? No. But you put him in a room with one toy, he's going to master that one toy. Then you give him two, he masters two toys.”
Alvarez is not the only one of his Fisher Cat players that Fasano feels has a chance to make it to the Jays. In fact he sees several on his team with a chance to become stars.
“We're talking about Adeiny (Hechavarria),” Fasano said. “We're talking about Travis D'Arnaud, Anthony Gose has got a high ceiling. Moises Sierra, Michael McDade have high ceilings. Then we've got pitchers, too. You saw Zach Stewart. You're going to see Henderson maybe in September, maybe next year, some guys you've got to make decisions on, whether we're going to keep them or allow them to go somewhere else.”
Alvarez, with a 4-4 record and a 3.25 ERA in 10 games at New Hampshire, tossed a scoreless inning in the Futures, hitting 96 several times. He's part of the Jays future.