Yordan Álvarez, traded by Dodgers, a star slugger for Astros

Yordan Álvarez can’t remember his days as a Dodger. Not that there’s much to remember.

The Houston Astros All-Star left fielder recently recalled spending about a month at the organization’s academy in the Dominican Republic in 2016, “maybe a little less.” He recalls training twice on the field in shorts and a t-shirt. He never wore a uniform. He has never played in a game. It was a short chapter in his life.

But he remembers how his time with the Dodgers ended. One day he was lying in bed when an academy team official called and asked him to visit his office.

“I was a bit scared,” Álvarez said in Spanish.

Álvarez worried that the Dodgers would release him, that they would kick him out of the academy, and that his baseball career would face a roadblock outside of Cuba. Then the officer explained what was going on: He wasn’t released but had to go because the Dodgers were selling him to Houston. Fifteen minutes later he was in a car to the Astros Academy, two kilometers away.

“I didn’t know what a trade was here,” Álvarez said. “I didn’t know how that worked.”

Six years later, Álvarez is playing in his third World Series with the Astros. The 25-year-old has become one of the majors’ most feared hitters, an imposing 6ft 5 figure akin to an NFL tight end with a rare combination of power and plate discipline.

He was named the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year after hitting 27 homers and hitting a 1.067 on-base plus slugging percentage in 87 games. He hit 33 homers last year and 37 this season, earning his first AL All-Star spot. The only year the Astros haven’t made it to the World Series since arriving was 2020, when Álvarez only played two games before undergoing two knee surgeries.

“I often compare him to David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado, hitters like that,” Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón said in Spanish. “He’s a guy who’s not scared in the big moments. He’ll pull through. He will walk. On the other side he will land a hit. He’s a good slugger. One of the best I’ve ever had. One of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Álvarez’s world was rocked by the Dodgers’ trade, but the transaction was an outlier on the Major League Baseball landscape. Back then it was just a small step. The Dodgers were looking for bullpen help for a postseason push, so they contacted the Astros about Josh Fields, a 30-year-old right-hander with a 7.00 earned running average. Fields had various suitors, but the price would not be high.

Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ then-president of baseball operations, texted Farhan Zaidi, then-general manager of the Dodgers, asking if “Y. Alvarez” was on the table, said two people with knowledge of the situation. Zaidi thought Luhnow meant Yadier Álvarez, a pitcher from Cuba they signed for $16 million less than a year earlier. The answer was a resounding no. But Luhnow asked about Jordan, not Yadier.

Álvarez was a 19-year-old Cuban first baseman who the Dodgers gave him $2 million in June before his international contract expired. He wasn’t that popular. Act.

“I was happy when they told me about the trade,” Álvarez said. “I knew people in West Palm [Beach, Fla.] and I knew the Astros were going to build a complex there, so I was happy.”

It’s gone down as one of the few trades the Dodgers have clearly lost since Andrew Friedman took front office in 2014, but the Astros didn’t take Álvarez because they knew they were getting a superstar.

The Astros' Yordan Alvarez watches his triple walk-off home run in Game 1 of the ALDS on October 11, 2022.

The Astros’ Yordan Alvarez looks at his triple walk-off home run in Game 1 of the ALDS.

(David J Phillip / Associated Press)

Back then, Álvarez’s size was misleading. In his final season in Cuba’s professional league, he hit just one home run in 125 appearances with a .351 batting average. He was a huge contact hitter.

But the Astros, particularly a scout named Charlie Gonzalez, saw potential. Álvarez moved to Florida after defecting from Cuba and settling in Haiti. Gonzalez, a Florida native, developed a close relationship with him. The scout tried to convince Luhnow to sign Álvarez in 2016, but the team had already exceeded its international budget and couldn’t meet the Dodgers’ offer.

Six weeks later, the Dodgers asked about Fields, and Luhnow asked Gonzalez what he thought of it. Gonzalez tripped over Álvarez again. The Cuban soon moved five minutes down the road to his new academy.

“I lived there for five or six months,” Álvarez said, “and then I left.”

Álvarez has struggled through the minor leagues in the United States. He hit 12 homers in 90 games between the Low A and High A in 2017. The next year, he hit 20 homers in 88 games between the Double A and Triple A. Finally, in 2019 he wrecked the Triple-A pitch, hitting .343 with 23 homers in 56 Playing before he got the call to Houston.

“I saw him a little bit in spring training in 2019, but I didn’t think he was that good,” said Cintrón. “Then him [thrived] in Triple A. He was on another level. his mentality. its maturity. How he controls the disk. What he does, his approach, everything. Impressive.”

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado’s assessment of Álvarez doesn’t start with his power or mechanics. It starts with his mind.

“It’s amazing to watch him every day, to watch the consistency, to watch the preparation, to hear what he thinks, to talk to him about batting,” Maldonado said. “Not everyone can do that every day.”

Álvarez made his debut against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park in 2019. Astros designated hitter Trey Mancini played first base for the Orioles. From there, he watched Álvarez lift a switch down and away from Dylan Bundy the other way, over the wall in left midfield in the fourth inning for his first home run.

“It’s impressive to watch him every day, to observe the consistency, to observe the preparation.”

– Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado on teammate Yordan Álvarez

Mancini was amazed. He turned to Astros first base coach Don Kelly.

“I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ ‘ Mancini said. “He said, ‘He’s going to be a stud. Keep an eye on him.’ And he was right, to say the least. So I saw what he could do from day one and he didn’t stop.”

Álvarez led the Astros to a three-game win over the Seattle Mariners in the AL Division Series with two home runs — including a walk-off, three home runs in Game 1 — and seven RBIs. He struggled in the Astros’ next five games and went three for 23 in Game 1 of the World Series, but he remains a threat in the three holes the Philadelphia Phillies are worried about.

In Game 1, for example, Phillies manager Rob Thomson challenged José Alvarado, the club’s top left-hander, to go on an out against Álvarez in the fifth inning. Álvarez showed up and ended the 0-4 loss with two strikeouts.

History says that Álvarez is about to have a breakthrough. He’s proven too good to slump this badly for much longer, a reality the Dodgers would have wished for six years ago.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-10-29/world-series-houston-astros-yordan-alvarez-dodgers-trade Yordan Álvarez, traded by Dodgers, a star slugger for Astros

Emma Bowman

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