Astros slugger Alvarez named AL Rookie of Year

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Houston Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez capped a meteoric rise by becoming the franchise’s third-ever Rookie of the Year winner and second since the club moved to the American League.

Alvarez was a unanimous selection of the award’s 30 voters. Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means finished second, with Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe third, White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez fourth and Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio fifth.

Alvarez, 22, began this past season with Triple-A Round Rock after being ranked 34th-best prospect by Baseball America before the season and Houston’s eighth-best prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law before the season. He provided an early glimpse of things to come by hitting three homers for Round Rock in his second game of the season. By the end of April, Alvarez had mashed 12 homers, hit .354 and driven in 30 runs in just 22 games, spurring calls for a promotion to the big league club.

That call finally came in early. In his big-league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on June 9, Alvarez homered off of Dylan Bundy. He never stopped hitting, finishing with 27 home runs in 87 games, tying the mark for most home runs by a rookie who played in 100 games or fewer. He served as Houston’s designated hitter in 74 of his 87 outings in helping the Astros to the AL pennant.

Across two levels this season, Alvarez hit .324 with a .690 slugging percentage, while blasting 50 home runs and driving in 149 runs in 143 games. His 1.067 OPS in the majors was the highest ever for a rookie with at least 350 plate appearances.

Alvarez’s consistency was remarkable: He had an OPS of 1.140 at home and .985 away, 1.083 against righties and 1.038 against lefties and at least .999 in each of the four months in which he appeared in the majors.

“The humility he has in handling success at this level, and the coverage that he’s getting and all the attention, he’s just been very humble,” Astros manager AJ Hinch told ESPN during the season. “He’s also hungry to learn. He’s a quiet man by nature and his demeanor is very low key. But he’s always in tune with other players and other people and the information.”

Hinch also tweeted congratulations to Alvarez after he was announced as the winner on Monday.

An imposing 6-foot-5, Alvarez hit a 474-foot homer off Texas’ Mike Minor on July 19. In early September, he homered into the third deck at Minute Maid Park, a shot so prodigious that the Astros wrapped the seat in vinyl to commemorate it.

After going just 1 for 22 during Houston’s six-game win over the Yankees in the ALCS, Alvarez rebounded to hit .412 with a home run during the Astros’ seven-game loss to the Washington Nationals in the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Alvarez out of Las Tunas, Cuba, on June 15, 2016. The Astros acquired him six weeks later in exchange for reliever Josh Fields. As Alvarez began to make his way through the Houston organization, his offensive reputation began to spread through one of baseball’s most bountiful farm systems.

“When he was brought over to the States, we started to hear some chatter from the backfields that, at one point, I think he hit a car with one of his home runs,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told ESPN this season. “It was one of those things where if you’re around and you have a half day to go watch the back field, find this guy and watch him hit. Because it’s pretty special. It snowballed from there.”

Shortstop Carlos Correa was the Astros’ last AL Rookie of the Year winner, taking the honors in 2015. The only other Rookie of the Year in franchise history was Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who won the award in 1991, when the Astros were in the National League.

Lowe, 25, retained rookie eligibility after breaking in with the Rays in 2018 by hitting six homers over 43 games. This season he was one of the AL’s top second baseman for over half the season and earned his first All-Star Game berth. He was just the fourth rookie in Tampa Bay history to make an All-Star roster.

Lowe hit .270 with 17 homers over 82 games but missed 2&189; months because of lower-body injuries. He returned shortly before the end of the regular season, then went 4-for-16 with a home run during the Rays’ ALDS loss to Houston. Before the season, Lowe inked a six-year, $24 million extension with Tampa Bay.

Means, 26, was a rare bright spot for an Orioles team that lost 108 games. He led Baltimore in wins (12) and ERA (3.60) while earning an All-Star berth. An 11th-round pick by the Orioles in 2014 out of West Virginia, Means led Baltimore with 4.6 wins above replacement.

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