The Orioles optioned outfielder Dariel Alvarez to the minors this week with the intention of converting his strong right arm into that of a pitcher.
Alvarez, 28, will spend the rest of this month with the minor leaguers at Twin Lakes Park with the aim of having him break camp with a full-season affiliate as a reliever who will still get time as a designated hitter in between his appearances.
“Alvi needs to get down and start the pitching program,” manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday. “He’s going to start on a very similar plan that Mychal Givens [who converted in 2013] was on. We talked to him for about 20 minutes yesterday. We’ve been talking to him off and on for about a year. You can’t go from A to Z with that.”
The first step will be strength testing and the organization’s pitching program under the watch of minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker. Showalter said such a move became inevitable with Alvarez sliding down the depth chart as an outfielder but possessing what scouts agree is a double-plus arm.
“It’s depressing to him,” Showalter said. “He thinks he’s ready to pitch in a major league game right now, but we’re going to start with it slow."
When Alvarez signed out of Cuba in 2013, many teams were interested in him as a pitcher, but the Orioles made him an outfielder. Over the course of 2015 and 2016, he hit 31 home runs in the minors and made his big league debut in August 2015.
Despite hitting .288 last year at Triple-A Norfolk, the club sees a better future for him on the mound. Alvarez still throws bullpens on occasion in the offseason, and is said to run his fastball up to 97 mph. Showalter said it didn’t exactly take convincing, even if the conversion conversation has been ongoing for a while.
“We just laid it out,” Showalter said. “Here’s what we see, here’s what we’re thinking, and what do you think? He’s got to embrace it. It’s something he’s wanted to do, but the big thing for him was he didn’t want to leave the offensive part of it behind. I’m trying to tell him, the focus he’s going to have to have on [it]. He’s pretty confident about his pitching. So was Mychal. Mychal was like, 'I can do that anytime.' I want to play this out as a player. And [Dariel] is a better hitter than Mychal was.
“And it’s tough. He’s leaving a year when he had 38 doubles, and he’s handled himself pretty well offensively. But looking at the landscape, we don’t want his optionable status to come and go. Someone is going to do this at some point. We’ve got this year and next year to option him. Perfect world, he’s knocking on the door as a pitcher next year.”
The tradeoff, Showalter said, was that Alvarez can still hit. That will allow him to still play winter ball with position player eligibility and be sharp for that, though Alvarez believes he can help a major league team with both his arm on the mound and bat at the plate.
“He’s going to continue to hit as he works out his pitching, but he has some experience as a pitcher professionally in Cuba, and he has a good arm, so he’s going to see if he can develop that talent and see if he can establish himself as a major league pitcher,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “He’d like to continue his hitting and develop his pitching. That’s what he’s agreed to do. We’ll see how it goes.”