It’s hard for Angels fans to forget the impact that former closer Francisco Rodriguez had on the organization in his time with the Angels. He came up to the majors for the Angels in September of the magical 2002 season, and struck out 13 of the 21 batters he faced. He then was one of the most important members in the bullpen during that amazing World Series Championship team during the playoffs. After a couple years of setting up long-time Angels closer Troy Percival, he became the closer for the next four seasons, eventually ending his Angels tenure after setting a Major League record for saves in a single season.
Since K-Rod left after the 2008 season, the team has seen Brian Fuentes, Fernando Rodney, Jordan Walden, closer-by-committee, and recently Ernesto Frieri man the role of Angels’ closer. They even had another Francisco Rodriguez in the bullpen at one point. While they’ve had plenty of power arms and guys with great movement on their breaking balls, they haven’t quite had that balance that K-Rod had. While Frieri is the Angels’ current closer and closer for the foreseeable future, Angels pitching prospect (and third-round draft pick from 2012) R.J. Alvarez is rising up the organizational ladder at a similar rate to K-Rod. There are other aspects of Alvarez that are strongly comparable to K-Rod and can lead many to believe that this young arm could be the next K-Rod:
One of the more memorable quirks of Francisco Rodriguez was his erratic pitching motion on the mound. Though Alvarez doesn’t have the high kick that K-Rod had, he does have a very violent motion towards the plate, which also leave him falling off the mound a bit. Like Rodriguez, this violent pitching motion does lead to some control problems. One positive trade-off for a violent pitching motion is that it’s an intimidating display for the opposing batters. This is a key to the concept of “effectively wild.” K-Rod displayed much effective wildness in his days with the Angels and Alvarez displays effective wildness as well.
When you look at some of the rates for Francisco Rodriguez’s career with the Angels versus those same rates for R.J. Alvarez’s minor league career so far, the similarities are quite overt:
Obviously there is the glaring fact that we are comparing the seven-year Major League span of K-Rod with the Angels to the two-year minor league span of Alvarez. One thing that should be noted is that three years Rodriguez spent in the Angels organization before 2002 were as a starting pitcher. Nevertheless, this whole comparison is to display how similar Alvarez is to the K-Rod that the Angels saw. While Alvarez does have higher rates in most of the categories, those rates aren’t higher by much. Also, one of the rates that is higher is the strikeouts-per-nine-innings. In any case, Alvarez is showing great potential and a very similar potential to K-Rod.
Perhaps the most similar comparison for K-Rod and Alvarez is their pitching repertoires. Both of them are known for their great fastball-slider combination. While Alvarez throw a little bit faster than Rodriguez, K-Rod still had a very effective fastball. Their fastballs both work well with their hard-breaking sliders, which they both use as their go-to strikeout pitch. Their sliders are also the biggest subject to their effective wildness, which is only effective due to the immense movement that they have. Another interesting part of the repertoire comparison is their changeups. Although K-Rod didn’t start using a changeup until the latter part of his Angels career, he threw it effectively. Alvarez has a decent changeup that has the potential to become a very effective pitch for him.
Alvarez will be entering 2014 likely with a ticket to Double-A, which is the same level at which K-Rod was entering the 2002 season. Though K-Rod was only 20-years-old that season and Alvarez will be turning 23 in June, Alvarez has progressed through the Angels’ system at a quicker rate. While it doesn’t appear too likely that he’ll get a call up early on in the year, it’s a good possibility that he could be a September call-up, like K-Rod in 2002.
For the future, Alvarez’s path to being the Angels’ closer is blocked. K-Rod was also blocked by Troy Percival for a couple of years. Ernesto Frieri coincidentally has two year left after this year before he’s eligible for free agency. Just like K-Rod, we could see Alvarez called up at the end of the year (hopefully helping with a playoff run) and becoming a member of the Angels’ bullpen over the next couple years (possibly setting up Frieri and getting prepared to take over the closer’s role if Frieri becomes a free agent).
While this could all be a basket of coincidences and wishful thinking, there’s definitely a bright future for ahead for R.J. Alvarez. If his future is anything similar to Francisco Rodriguez, then the Angels may have a future ace in the bullpen.