SARASOTA, FLA. — There isn’t a fit for Pedro Álvarez on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster this spring, but that didn’t stop the veteran slugger from signing with the club for the third straight season.
After remaining unsigned throughout the offseason, Álvarez signed a minor league deal with the Orioles that would pay him $1 million if he makes the big league club and could reach $3 million with performance bonuses.
The deal became official Monday morning, and Álvarez was participating in batting practice and taking grounders at first base before the Orioles’ Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers. He should get into games within the week, manager Buck Showalter said.
“Anything is possible, right,” Álvarez said of landing with the Orioles for a third straight season. “Obviously, this is an organization that’s welcomed me with open arms. I have a good rapport with a lot of staff and players here. Obviously, this is a place where, in terms of fit and comfort, from a comfort level, this is definitely a place where I definitely saw myself coming to again.”
After signing in mid-March the previous two spring trainings, Álvarez is getting in about two weeks earlier this year.
“There’s a familiarity, there’s the first couple of awkward days where you’re trying to get to know everybody, walking on eggshells,” Álvarez said. “That’s eliminated. In my case, compared to the last two years, last year, I think I was here for 10 days, the year before, I was in camp for maybe 15 days. This feels almost like a full camp. I’m excited to be here, to get to spend this time here, to get this opportunity to be here again.”
Álvarez will likely have to open the season in the minor leagues with Mark Trumbo expected to exclusively fill the designated hitter spot. Also, with the Orioles committed to a platoon in right field — taking two roster spots — as well as carrying outfielder Anthony Santander on the 25-man roster for the first six weeks to fulfill his Rule 5 eligibility, there are no spots on the bench to carry a player who will likely only contribute as a DH.
One of the Orioles’ biggest offseason priorities was adding more left-handed bats to a batting order with just one left-handed starter in Chris Davis. Since then, the Orioles have added several, including veteran outfielder Colby Rasmus, who is the leader to be the platoon outfielder in right field.
Still, a left-handed power hitter like Álvarez, who had 26 homers in 138 games for Triple-A Norfolk last year while playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Harbor Park, is an asset the Orioles would like to have.
“He’s a great depth piece for us,” Showalter said. “I think he really learned some things about himself as a hitter last year, especially the second half of the season. It was fun to watch. When he came up to us, he was really good, I thought. So it’s always comforting to have someone like him as a depth piece.”
Even though it was a small sample size, Showalter was impressed with Álvarez when he received a September call-up last season. Álvarez hit .313/.353/.438, going 10-for-32 in 14 games with the Orioles in the season’s last month, and might have been one of the team’s best hitters as the Orioles fell out of the wild-card race and into a last-place division finish.
“I could just tell he had a real calmness about him,” Showalter said. “He had a plan every time he went up there. He was under control. He made them throw the ball over the plate. He didn’t miss many pitches. You could tell he was really in a good place and comfortable hitting with the approach he was taking. It was the same thing they had been saying there. Sometimes with a season like last year, it takes about half of it to figure out, OK, what am I going to do to get out of this? He had a plan with [minor league hitting coordinator] Jeff Manto and they stuck with it.”
Álvarez agreed that he felt he improved as a hitter last season.
“I feel like every year that goes by, every at-bat that goes by, I feel like I’m learning from each at-bat and building off of that and as each year goes by, I do feel I get better,” Álvarez said. “That’s the plan. That’s the intent. I’m on the same boat as Skip.”
While sitting in the minors, Álvarez had multiple opportunities to opt out of his contract with the Orioles and try to restart elsewhere, but he remained patient that his opportunity would come. He will likely have to do that again this year.
“I think that if you don’t take the opportunity to take something from every experience, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice,” Álvarez said. “I felt like I learned a lot. Obviously, everyone wants to play at the highest level, which is here. Again, I try to focus on the things that I can control at the end of the day. All I can do is come to the ballpark every day, ready to play, be ready when the opportunity comes. The rest is up to other people to decide on.”