2013 was a bad season for the Miami Marlins, but it ended on a good note Sunday: Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. His achievement might get overlooked amidst Wild Card fever and political disputes, so let's direct some attention his way and take a look at how his career has gone thus far.
Henderson Alvarez was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent from Venezuela in 2006. He debuted with a 5.61 ERA but a solid 20/8 K/BB ratio in 26 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2007, then moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 2008, posting a 5.63 ERA with a sharp 34/6 K/BB in 46 innings. At this point he did not throw very hard, but he threw strikes.
Moved up to Low-A Lansing in the Midwest League in 2009, he emerged as a prospect to watch with a 3.47 ERA and an excellent 92/19 K/BB in 124 innings, allowing 121 hits and only one home run. His velocity picked up into the 89-92 range, sometimes as high as 94, and he made progress refining his breaking ball to go with an excellent splitter-like change-up. I had him rated as a Grade C+ entering 2010.
Assigned to High-A Dunedin in the Florida State League for '10, Alvarez had a mixed season. On the positive side, his velocity continued to improve, up to 96-97 with his fastball at his best. On the negative side, his breaking ball went backwards, and even with the quality change-up, more advanced hitters took advantage at times. He posted a 4.33 ERA in 112 innings with a 78/27 K/BB, giving up 137 hits and 10 homers. I kept him rated as a Grade C+ entering '11.
2011 saw Alvarez take a large step forward. He posted a 2.86 ERA in 88 innings with a 66/17 K/BB ratio for Double-A New Hampshire. In the major leagues with the Blue Jays, he made 10 starts with a 40/8 K/BB and a 3.53 ERA in 64 innings, moving past rookie qualifications. He spent all of 2012 with Toronto, making 31 starts with some shaky results, going 9-14, 4.85 with a 79/54 K/BB in 187 innings with 216 hits allowed.
Traded off to the Marlins last winter in the huge Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrle trade, he missed the first part of this season with shoulder problems, but pitched reasonably well on his return and finished with a 3.59 ERA in 103 innings with a 57/27 K/BB. Nowadays he works at 90-95 MPH with his sinker, mixing in a curveball, slider, and change-up.
It is too early in his career to start throwing around historical comps. No-hitter aside, Alvarez isn't spectacular, but he's not bad either. At this point he is your basic league-average starting pitcher, who gets a lot of ground balls and can do some good work with a competent defense behind him and a little luck on his side. He had that yesterday.