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From Sochi to the Sally: The wild ride of White Sox prospect Eddy Alvarez

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Once a silver medalist in speed skating for the US, Eddy Alvarez returns to the baseball diamond in hopes of making the big leagues.

Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

Eddy Alvarez isn't atop many prospect lists, nor does he rank in the Chicago White Sox Top 20. Heck, due to his age, he may not even be a prospect much longer. But after his second consecutive strong season, Alvarez is one of the more interesting stories in Minor League Baseball.

Why is a 25-year old shortstop that hasn’t played above High-A ball so intriguing? Well, when Alvarez signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2014, he had a shiny silver medal hanging in his trophy case. 

Alvarez was a skater at a very young age, but he was a baseball player first. Hailing from Cuban-American parents and growing up in Miami, baseball was in his blood while roller skates were on his feet. His skills in roller skating led him down the road to ice skating, and his goal was to be an Olympian. Alvarez missed out in 2010, finishing 13th in the Olympic Trials, but 2014 would be a different story.

He would make the Olympic team in 2014, qualifying in all three individual short track speed skating events. Alvarez headed to Sochi and would come up short in his three events, however he would snag a silver medal in the 5,000 meter relay.  

The whole time, however, Alvarez was a baseball player, and a pretty darn good one at that. After falling short in 2010, he went to play ball at Salt Lake Community College. He would slash .311/.390/.478 over 63 games, leading the Scenic West with 16 doubles and chipping in two home runs, four triples, 46 RBI and stealing base seven times. He was certainly on people’s radars.

With skating behind him after the Sochi Winter Olympics, the White Sox came calling and gave him a chance. The 5 foot 9 shortstop performed remarkably well in his 2014 debut season, considering the three year layoff he had from playing competitive baseball. 

He slashed .346/.433/.500 over Rookie ball and Low-A. He would show an impressive patience at the plate for someone seemingly wanting to get right back into the swing of things (that pun was too hard to leave off the table), walking 27 times and striking out 34 in 182 at bats. Known as a speedster, Alvarez had trouble on the base paths, swiping nine bases but getting caught an unimpressive 10 times.

So, was 2014 a fluke? Did Alvarez come out of the gates hot because he was simply excited to be back on the diamond?

Nope. 2015 was arguably better for Alvarez. He started the season in Low-A but would eventually reach the Carolina League playing for Winston-Salem in High-A ball. His numbers were fantastic: over 123 games (450 combined at bats) Alvarez slashed .296/.409/.424. 

He was an extra base machine, belting five homer runs, 29 doubles and seven triples. His base path awareness seemed to catch up with that speed as he went an impressive 53-for-68 (78%). Then there was that plate discipline. On both levels, Alvarez walked more times than he struck out, finishing the season with 88 walks (a 16% walk ratio) and 85 strikeouts (15%).

It is safe to assume that being a two sport star, especially one being skating, that Alvarez has good balance and sound athleticism. Despite the amazing numbers Alvarez has put up at the plate, he felt he was brought on for his defense.

"I got signed purely for my defense, and if I hit, I hit, but if I didn't -- it was, 'OK, good job,'" he told Jake Seiner at MiLB.com. "I battled a lot of mental challenges, I guess. I didn't expect certain things this season. I kind of regret it, a lot of the plays, a lot of the errors were just mentally stupid errors in a way. Being checked out in a way, I guess. That's not my game."

The White Sox have played him a bit a second base, where he didn’t commit an error and posted a 4.25 range factor, albeit a mere four games. He has struggled a bit at his natural shortstop position, however he showed much improvement when he jumped up to High-A, as his RF jumped from 4.27 to 4.96 and his fielding percentage rose from .936 to .963. Due to his speed and that balance, many consider his range to be highly advanced and feel that his fielding will level out and be rather solid. 

Several factors are in play that may make the White Sox hesitant to calling Alvarez a huge success. He is primarily playing against much younger competition. He has also benefitted from a high BABIP his entire career, never seeing it fall below .350 on any level of play. 

What kind of chance does Alvarez have? It surely doesn’t help that he is buried in a White Sox system whose three better prospects are middle infielders (Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson and Tim Anderson). Age is certainly a factor as well, as he has less time to develop his skill set to be big league ready. Should he continue to show growth at the next level, and maintains that great plate presence, I could easily see them giving him a chance as a super utility player down the road.