This pitcher got control lessons from Detroit Tigers, English lessons from ‘The Simpsons’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The first pitch was wild.

Totally understandable.

It’s hard to control lightning.

Elvis Alvarado — the Detroit Tigers prospect with a wicked 100 mph fastball — was starting his first bullpen of the season. At TigerTown. In front of all the Tigers coaches. All the big-league coaches.

The second one was wild, too. Just a tad. Not crazy wild.

But then, he settled down and found his rhythm.

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“I felt really good,” he said. “My first day and I feel a little excited.”

Alvarado, 23, is one of the most interesting prospects in this Tigers camp. He has a massive presence — he’s 6 feet 5 with bushy hair that makes him look even bigger. He has a golden arm and dominated at Double-A Erie last year. And yes, he has that electric fastball.

“Yeah, well, he throws 100, which is rare,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s a big, physical kid.”

The Tigers scooped him up from the Seattle Mariners after the 2021 season.

“We drafted him in the Rule 5, the minor league phase, which you never hear about,” Hinch said. “Our office did a great job of targeting him last season. We signed him back and our (player development) system deserves a lot of credit for getting him inside the strike zone, and his stuff is plenty good enough.”

Last year, this right-handed reliever rocketed from Low-A Lakeland to High-A West Michigan and then to Double-A Erie. He pitched in 49 games, recording 63 strikeouts with just 18 walks over 59 2/3 innings.

“He’s got a crazy, crazy arm,” catcher Dillon Dingler said. “His two-seam has a ton of movement. His four-seam has a little bit less movement, but it’s still probably more than average. He had that little spurt last year where he just, day in and day out, struck out the side.”

Now, he’s in the big-league camp.

He is not expected to make the Tigers’ roster for Opening Day. But this is a huge development opportunity for him. Just to get comfortable.

Because at some point in the future, barring a surprise, he’s going to be in Detroit.

But that’s in the future.

Right now, the Tigers just want him to get comfortable being around major leaguers.

“I think that’s what we want him to experience in his camp,” Hinch said. “Be around some names. You know, kind of get the edge off, whether it’s pitchers that have already been in the big leagues, or like today, when Miggy walks in the door.”

To get rid of the “wow” factor.

Because he has plenty of “wow” in his arm.

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Adjusting to America

Alvarado was born in the Dominican Republic, and he learned English the old-fashioned way.

“Music, rappers and TV shows,” he said.

“What’s your favorite?” I asked.

“Simpsons,” he said.

“The Simpsons?” I asked. “Like Bart?”

“Yeah,” he said, laughing.

“How much do you watch it?”

“A lot!” he said, laughing harder.

And at that point, I thought: OK, I’m starting to like this kid a lot.

Finding his command

“When did you hit 100 for the first time?” I asked.

“When I was 19,” he said.

But he struggled with his command.

In his three seasons in the minors before joining the Tigers’ organization — 1½ with the Washington Nationals and 1½ with the Mariners and not counting the 2020 non-season — he had a 5.87 ERA with 63 walks and 80 strikeouts over 87⅓ innings. Not exactly a model of throwing strikes.

But the Tigers have gotten him to improve his command.

“My four-seam moves like a two-seam,” he said. “My slider, a couple of years ago, I had a problem throwing it.”

But he improved his slider by working with Juan Pimentel, who is now the pitching coach at Erie.

“He showed me a new grip and he said, ‘Do it, just try it,’” Alvarado said.

And it worked.

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“We need him in the strike zone because that’s when he’s at his best,” Hinch said. “I think we will work on his pitch usage, which still needs a little bit of tweaking. But physical presence, pure stuff. Could be a late bloomer and we’ll see. Will probably be more of a long-term project for us at this point than necessarily these next six weeks. But this is a valuable time for him.”

Alvarado is a true organizational success story for the Tigers. How they found him. How they developed him. And how he has soared through the system.

“I really like it here because they have given me a lot of confidence,” he said.

He is still a work in progress, still working on the pitch shape of his slider.

But if he can get it all together?

If he can keep developing and maintain the velocity and keep throwing strikes and handle Triple-A and develop his slider even more?

To quote a great philosopher, the eldest child of Homer and Marge:

“Ay, caramba!”

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. 

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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