It is a fair question that some fans have been asking: If the Orioles have an outfielder like Dariel Alvarez that is almost ready for the majors, why not turn right field over to him come April rather than sign another outfielder?
After all, Jonathan Schoop won the second base job at spring training last year. Could Alvarez do that in Sarasota this year?
While that seems possible, it doesn’t seem likely. Alvarez has just one full minor league season under his belt and has played just 44 games at the Triple-A level.
Some have compared Alvarez and his readiness to help in 2015 to Nick Markakis and the 2006 season, when Markakis took over as a starter as a rookie and never looked back. Markakis struggled early on that year, but the team stuck with him as it did with Schoop last year.
But keep in mind that even though Markakis never played at Triple-A, he had two full minor league seasons and 282 career games under his belt before he made the majors. Alvarez has one full year and 157 games. Schoop, signed at a younger age than both, has played in 463 minor league games.
Alvarez could probably use more minor league seasoning, but in 611 career minor league at-bats he has hit .311 with 41 doubles, four triples, 19 homers, 97 RBIs and an .820 OPS.
There’s no doubt that Alvarez and Mike Yastrzemski are on the radar and now rank as the Orioles’ top two outfield prospects.
During the winter meetings, executive vice president Dan Duquette spoke highly of both.
“(Yastrzemski) showed he’s a five-tool player and Alvarez also showed that he could be a five-tool player. That is exciting to have two young players like that in the minors,” Duquette said. “Granted they need more seasoning, but they could come up and make a contribution to the major league team in 2015.
“Prospects are still prospects, but I’m encouraged by the contact that Alvarez made at Triple-A and how Yastrzemski has really improved and shown power since he signed. That was just Yastrzemski’s first full year and Alvarez’s first full year since he signed coming out of Cuba. But both these players in their first full year showed all the skill and ability to be good major leaguers.”
We also know that the Orioles - like many teams - can look back at a long list of players that looked promising in the high minors, but didn’t deliver the same performance at the major league level.
Prospects are prospects until they do it.
In the specific case of Alvarez, you have a player adjusting to a new country, culture and language at the same time as adjusting to high-level pro pitchers. That is no easy task.
When to bring a promising young talent to the majors is a tough call for any organization. And if they struggle early, do you stick with them or send them back to the minors?
If the Orioles did sign an outfielder like Colby Rasmus, he would certainly not be blocking anyone on a one-year contract. He would not even block them this year. If Alvarez tore up Triple-A and showed he’s ready, what would keep the O’s from bringing him up and playing him ahead of others? Nothing would.
Markakis came up and produced results. Schoop hit 16 homers and played very good defense. Alvarez’s day may be coming.