The pitcher was signed with immense talent, some of the best the Dodgers had ever seen, but in the gravity of his contract, the talent he possessed seemed larger still. Yadier Alvarez signed for $16 million, the second largest deal in the 2015 international class and the reason was simple, he had potential. The original scouting reports echoed the sentiment that the contract did, “Yadier Alvarez has a plus-plus fastball, an excellent slider, and a changeup that can become devastating” one scout said, “He could very well be worth the money” he continued. But, the years past, Alvarez grew older and the prospect, once hailed for his incredible abilities became known for nothing more than an attitude and an ugly disposition.
Alvarez was brought here to be great. The Dodgers passed on Yoan Moncada so they could have the young Cuban pitcher, ready to throw 100 miles per hour, and rise quickly to the major leagues. But, it was not his talent that has come into dispute since 2015, it was and still is, the intangibles, the skills he has off the field. In any good player there is the obvious need to be good on the field but just as obvious, and important, is the ability to be strong off the field, in your head, and as a person.
Alvarez is yet to display those skills, the mental ones, and it is showing in his development. In 2016, Alvarez was brought to the United States and placed immediately in the rookie league where he shined. So, after just five games there, he was promoted to Low-A.
There, with the Great Lakes Loons, his dominance continued but, while his pitches developed, his attitude did not. Former teammates, wishing not to be named, said things like:
“Alvarez was just not a good dude. He thought he was the only one that mattered and playing every five days was for him, not his team,” one 2016 teammate shared.
The season ended, the then 20-year old had an opportunity to regroup and the Dodgers management, strict with their handling of the top prospect, hoped that everything would change as he spent more time in American professional baseball.
In 2017 the problems persisted. Gabe Kapler, the team’s manager of player development at the time, had virtually zero tolerance for the young player’s character. He assumed the role of disciplinarian, following Alvarez closely and making sure that he would not fly off the handle.
That season, 2017, the Dodgers had received many trade offers and he was at the center of the return, they had an out, but they continued to believe in the young righty.
All the moments, the good, the bad, and the very ugly, built up. Kapler left to manage the Phillies and the leash on a prospect with a plummeting rating grew longer, leaving room for his bad behavior to grow and the Dodgers would eventually begin to tolerate it.
But this year, on September second, Yadier Alvarez showed his true colors.
In the heat of a playoff race, when he was asked to pitch in a game that was otherwise meaningless, he refused. Alvarez wanted to pitch in game one of the Texas League Playoffs and pitching in this game would effectively take him out of the mix.
So, as legend would predict, he would not play. He left and abandoned his team because he was the only person that mattered in that clubhouse. According to a friend of Yadier, he paid for an Uber and drove the 185 miles, costing him $450, from Springfield to Tulsa because he was unhappy with his situation.
When the world found out about this, the pressure mounted for his agency to save face. They needed him to go back to his team and to play even if he did not want to because, at that point, he was just further ruining his already poor reputation. And, because of the media, he begrudgingly came back.
The moral of the story is not that the Dodgers are working with a prospect that has a bad attitude, we knew that. The story does not stop here and this was not the first time it has happened. But, the uncomfortable truth, in this case, is Alvarez is not getting better as a pitcher.
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Young players signed with him or after him have shot up through the supporting system that the Dodgers devote a lot of money and attention to. Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias, Ross Stripling, Dustin May, Caleb Ferguson, Walker Buehler and many more have all seen unbelievable success in the time that Alvarez has plateaued. Not necessarily because of the way he pitches but because of the way he conducts himself.
Barry Lewis from the Tulsa World said in a tweet, “Yadier Alvarez has made some electric pitches tonight but has the worst intangibles of any Tulsa Drillers pitcher I’ve seen in their 42-year history. Can’t field his position, can’t hold runners, doesn’t cover first, works slowly, has bad body language.”
But, is there a flip side? Is there some way to argue that the infamous attitude of Yadier Alvarez is just the result of his history?
Alvarez was born in Cuba. He was raised in a moneyless situation where the world revolved around baseball and soccer. When he came to the United States with $16 million in his pocket, the world changed, and it got to his head.
We saw the same thing with Puig, a generational talent from Cuba who’s attitude changed drastically when his financial situation did. But, with time, the beloved outfielder has changed and matured. Alvarez may work in much of the same way and the Dodgers just have to be willing to take the ride with him. They will wait for the man they invested in over Yoan Moncada to mature.
You can lead a horse to water but you just can’t make it drink. Yadier Alvarez plays in a system that cares, they want him to be good. But, as we have seen in the past, and very recently, Alvarez is the horse and he just refuses to drink. The Dodgers may have reached the point where they need to consider the following: are Yadier Alvarez and his attitude really worth the wait?