Our Pirates Winter Report will highlight one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week, we feature infielder/outfielder Andres Alvarez, who is playing in Colombia.
Andres Alvarez is making a strong run at the Triple Crown in Colombia. That fact has led to one of the most popular questions this winter: What is Andres Alvarez doing in Colombia?
Alvarez played the entire 2022 season with Double-A Altoona. He got off to a great start, then leveled off as the year went along. He finished with the first 20/20 HR/SB season in Altoona Curve history, while getting thrown out stealing just once all season. He also showed off some solid defensive skills around the infield, playing his share of time at second base, shortstop and third base.
On the flip side, Alvarez turned 25 years old before Opening Day, which isn’t a great age for Double-A. He finished the season with a .220 average and a 27.8% strikeout rate. He also had a .197 average and a .676 OPS from May 24th until the end of the season.
There was clearly a lot of “good vs bad” and “skills/tools vs results”, going on during his season.
Alvarez decided to play winter league in Colombia this year. As far as the leagues we cover here, it’s the lowest for talent level, but there are a few lower around winter ball. The size of the league (just four teams) helps the talent level somewhat. However, it’s a league where some players who only have Dominican Summer League experience can get playing time. The overall talent is about the same as Single-A.
For someone who has a full season of Double-A experience, it’s not a good level. That being said, the league can still provide value. Lower level pitchers still have good velocity, so it won’t ruin your timing as a hitter. You still have to play defense. You can still learn things while playing the game against other professional players trying to win games. Occasionally you’ll even run across some experienced pitchers.
Luis Escobar, who made it to the majors with the Pirates, pitches in the league every year. He was one of six pitchers with big league experience in the league last year. So there are times where Alvarez is facing guys with the same skill/experience level.
I was able to talk to Alvarez and his manager, Jose Mosquera, who led Colombia to a Caribbean Series title last year over the powerhouse leagues of winter ball. Mosquera managed the DSL Pirates in 2021 and the FCL Pirates in 2022. He’s a former player, who has also done other scouting, coaching and managing.
Mosquera was a small part of the reason Alvarez chose the Colombian league this off-season.
“I chose Colombia because of the coaching staff, which I am very familiar with as it’s mostly Pirates staff,” Alvarez said. “They understand what I want to work on to get better, and it was a very good fit for what I was trying to do offensively and defensively.”
Alvarez also noted that he wanted to play in the Caribbean Series, looking forward to the level of competition.
Having a manager who also works for the Pirates has helped Alvarez this winter season. The Pirates set forth for him what needs to be done in order for him to make the majors, and he’s been able to do that with a manager who can make sure he puts in the work towards that goal.
“Specifically I am working on becoming a good outfielder,” Alvarez said. “I feel 100% comfortable all over the infield, but have been told my way to the big leagues is as a utility player. This year I found my way in the lineup by being a utility player, and I really wanted to feel comfortable out there. Here I have been given the chance to play a lot of outfield, which will help me get to Pittsburgh quicker.”
The stats tell us what we need to know about his offense. He was second in the league with a 1.138 OPS going into Friday night’s action. Scouting baseball isn’t all about the stats. They play the game on a field, not on paper. I went to Mosquera to get a report of the work that Alvarez has put in this winter, for some added perspective.
“It has been incredible to manage a player like Andres,” Mosquera said. “His total dedication stands out the most about him. I have not heard an ‘I can’t’ from him at any time, making him a fearsome player. He has been versatile for the team. He can play solid infield, and he has been an outfielder with many skills. He is an intelligent player. I think the team fits what he is looking for, which is why he has felt comfortable playing here in Colombia.”
Around the World
Oneil Cruz hasn’t been playing every day. He missed time due to the flu, then due to a dental procedure, then he left early on Thursday “as a precaution” and wasn’t in the lineup Friday. He has a .792 OPS in 12 games.
Rodolfo Castro had a down week after some big games last week got him over the league average OPS. His last few games have put him back under that mark. He goes into the weekend with a .623 OPS.
Miguel Andújar has been playing regularly for a month now. He got off to a quick start, then leveled off. He finally has a decent sample size, which shows a .657 OPS in 21 games.
Yohan Ramirez had an impressive outing in a close game this week, striking out Miguel Andujar and Rodolfo Castro, when each of them represented the tying run. He allowed one run over his first ten innings this winter.
Fabrico Macias and Denny Roman are the only two players from the Pirates in Mexico. Macias has basically blended in during winter, doing just enough to remain in the lineup on a regular basis, but nothing special. He has a .668 OPS in 49 games, in a league with a .665 average OPS. Roman has been used almost exclusively in short relief, and he’s been excellent in that role, throwing 10.2 innings over ten appearances, with one run and 14 strikeouts.
Puerto Rico has their All-Star game and there wasn’t a lot to report for the Pirates. Young infielder Tsung-Che Cheng got to play in the All-Star game last weekend, though that was more of a “right place, right time” situation, as he has still only played eight games total in the league going into Friday night.
Will Matthiessen is in the league, but he’s being used as a bench role very early on.
We expanded our coverage to include free agent catcher Roberto Perez for now. If he signs with the Pirates, he will stay on, otherwise we will drop him if he signs elsewhere. His first three games were all partial games, as he continues to ramp up to play regularly.
Josh Palacios had a few good games recently, giving him some solid early stats. It’s still very early in his winter. He was a minor league Rule 5 pick earlier this month.
Shawn Ross was a minor league free agent signing. He has had huge strikeouts numbers in his 25 games of winter ball, which sent him to the bench. He’s had a few hits off of the bench recently, so he may get more time.
Sydney has six Pirates players in Sammy Siani, Ernny Ordonez, Jase Bowen, Dylan Shockley, Solomon Maguire and Jesus Castillo. None on them are really standing out. Through Friday’s action, Siani is the only one doing better than league average (.740 OPS) with his .791 OPS. The rest of the players are all in the bottom half of the league leaderboard.
Bowen and Ordonez have been more steady than anything else. No big games, no bad streaks. Both are playing multiple positions. Shockley had one big game that got his stats closer to the middle of this pack. He’s recognized more for his defense, and he has thrown out 40% of runners this winter. Both Maguire and Castillo (more so Castillo) have struggled while making a big jump in competition. They have FCL experience, while Australia is perfect for High-A/Double-A players.
The league in Colombia is led so far by the hitting of the aforementioned Andres Alvarez. Rodolfo Nolasco was making some progress a few weeks ago, but he’s settled into the middle of the pack in Colombia. We took a look at his season last week.
On the pitching side, Oliver Mateo continued to rack up strikeouts (20 in 10.1 IP), though his control has been spotty. He has allowed just two runs. He’s too advanced for this league, but he needs the extra work after missing most of the 2022 season.
Diego Chiquillo and Adrian Florencio have both struggled with control. Florencio has been picking up a decent amount of strikeouts, but he wasn’t doing well otherwise. His last outing was three shutout innings in relief, after making five starts to begin the season.
Francisco Acuna was off to a very rough start, but he has been steady since. He had a big game this week that was suspended due to a major brawl that spilled into the crowd, so his stats will look better once that game is completed.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.