Dario Alvarez named SAL Pitcher of the Week and it’s been an unusual road to get there

Gnats lefthander Dario Alvarez earned the South Atlantic League’s Pitcher of the Week award for the week of May 12-18 for a single excellent start on Wednesday, May 14 against Greenville. The 25-year-old lefty struck out 12, walked one and allowed just three hits on his way to his second win of 2014.

For the year, Alvarez’s numbers are eye-popping: 0.33 ERA, 8 G, 3 GS, 27 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 8 BB, 42 K – 103 batters faced. He’s struck a silly 41 percent of opposing hitters and walked 8 percent. Opponents are hitting .181/.252/.202 against him with just two extra-base hits, both doubles.

Alvarez Gnats Delivery (Devyatkin)His reward for his award? He was first transferred to the Brooklyn roster in a paper move during the week to allow the Gnats some flexibility and later moved to the bullpen. Tuesday night, he tossed two scoreless innings with three strikeouts in relief of Ricky Knapp. The role change is a reflection of the Mets’ developmental priorities where it is more important to get consistent innings for Miller Diaz, Robert Gsellman, John Michael Gant, Chris Flexen, Kevin McGowan and Ricky Knapp than for Alvarez.

Alvarez began his professional career with the Phillies organization, pitching for their Dominican Summer League team in 2007-2009 as an 18-20 year-old. In those years, he walked 73 batters in 172 2/3 innings, a rate of 10 percent. He did not pitch in affiliated baseball until the Mets put him in Brooklyn in 2013. However, he never stopped pitching. Two months after the Phillies released him, he found a job in Panama where he pitched for two years before heading to Venezuela, where the Mets saw him in 2012.

As he tells it, Chris Becerra, the Mets’ Director of International Scouting saw him throw seven game innings, then had him throw a bullpen the next day, and then six more innings in a game on the third day.

Alvarez was thrilled – describing himself as “really happy” in an interview translated by Gnats manager Luis Rojas, not just to sign with the Mets, but to be given an opportunity to go first to Florida base spring training and then Brooklyn and Savannah. It was “tough to explain” how happy he was to be given a second chance with the recognition that many guys like him would not make it out of the Dominican Republic.

It “is a blessing,” he said. “There is no explanation. I love baseball, and I’m very excited for the second chance.”

Alvarez thinks he’s a better pitcher now than he was in his Phillies’ days, because he is under better control and he’s learned to ask questions. He cited Julian Tavarez with Aguilas in the Dominican Republic, who instructed him that, “putting in the work mentally makes the physical work easier” as being particularly helpful.

Alvarez works off a fastball that’s mostly 90-91, but he can get to 92, a slider around 80 mph and a changeup at 84. He’s mostly fastball/slider, especially out of the bullpen. He can throw strikes with his fastball and his secondaries, and that, from the left side is more than enough to roll through the South Atlantic League. His slider is fairly broad, and will need to be tightened up on his way up the system.

At 25-years-old, and with a three-year gap in professional baseball (2010-2012), he’s already an unusual case in the South Atlantic League.

The good money is on Alvarez working his way up to Double-A as a swingman for the Mets. From there, with a little tighter slider, there’s a chance he could buck the odds and find a way into a big league bullpen.