Alvarez blasts off twice for hooks gas definition


Both long balls, Alvarez’s fifth and sixth of the season, went out to left field off the left-handed slugger’s bat. He took RockHounds right-handed starter Norge Ruiz deep for a two-run shot on a 1-1 count in the first inning and added a solo blast on a full count off right-handed reliever Trey Cochran-Gill in the ninth. The 20-year-old ranks fifth in the Texas League in long balls.

"He’s been doing a great job all season, really," Hooks manager Omar Lopez said. "He looked really in at the plate. You could tell he was seeing the ball pretty good because you have to to hit the ball the opposite way like he did. He’s getting better at plate discipline. When the ball’s in the zone, he’ll make contact or foul it off. When there are mistakes, that’s when he can really do damage."

To Lopez’s point about plate discipline, Alvarez also walked twice to reach in four of his five plate appearances. The Cuba native is hitting .303/.394/.573 with six homers, six doubles, 24 RBIs and 14 walks in his first 23 games at Double-A. His walk rate continues to climb from 10.7 percent at Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Buies Creek last season to 13.5 percent through the first four weeks of the 2018 campaign.

But by far, the most exciting development remains in the power department. Alvarez — who was acquired from the Dodgers for Josh Fields in August 2016 before he even played in the Minors — hit 12 homers in 90 games between the Midwest and Carolina leagues last year but already is halfway to that mark in 67 fewers contests. The Astros have stressed trying to get the ball at least off the ground to tap into the left fielder’s natural power, and there’s still some room to grow: Alvarez entered Wednesday with a 1.8 ratio of ground balls to fly balls.

"That’s the biggest thing our hitting coach, Troy Snitker, and really our whole hitting department is working on with him, even going back to last year," Lopez said. "It’s all about creating a swing path that allows him to make the most of that power. … But people need to remember Yordan is a Cuban player. There were about two or three years where he wasn’t in pro ball. Now he’s in Double-A. It’s just about getting his reps, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s physically stronger, too, and seems like he’s working more on cardio and his lower half. It’s coming together well."

There was another positive step on the other side of the ball as the Astros’ No. 4 prospect threw out Brett Siddall, who was trying to score from second on a single, at the plate in the sixth inning. It was Alvarez’s fourth outfield assist of the season, a solid number for a player generally seen as having a below-average arm. Houston split the slugger’s time between left and first base in his first full season, trying to find a way to get his bat into the lineup as much as possible. This time around, however, he’s made all 19 of his starts in left. Lopez said first base will come back into play eventually but added he’s pleased with Alvarez’s defensive progress.

"He’s getting much better," the skipper said. "His arm strength is much better. We’re working with him on getting the 1-2-3 step technique so he can throw the ball to the base in a better way, but really, we’re very happy. The next couple weeks, he’ll start getting some reps at first. He might be more of a natural first baseman, but all of this is important to get him as many positions as possible while he’s here."

Yoanys Quiala (2-2) got the win after allowing three runs on three hits with two strikeouts in five innings. Akeem Bostick piggybacked on the start with four three-hit frames, walking two and fanning three for his first save since May 15, 2015.