One of the biggest stories surrounding the Atlanta Braves franchise in 2023 was the emergence of Ignacio Alvarez. His play last year polished the shine on his prospect status to the point of him being Baseball Prospectus' 98th-ranked prospect entering 2024. Making him the Braves second-ranked prospect behind just Hurston Waldrep.
Pretty good status for the guy they call Nacho! This is due to a great 2023 season spent entirely with the High-A Rome Braves (now Emporers). In his season with Rome, Alvarez played 116 games. Over 501 plate appearances, Alvarez hit .284/.395/.391 7 HR, 62 R, 66 RBI, 16 SB, 13.2% walk rate, 17.4% strikeout rate, .370 wOBA, .350 BABIP, & 123 wRC+.
Fun fact, I was at the game on July 15th where Alvarez hit 2 home runs in the same game. It was a Max Fried rehab start and Alvarez made sure he put on a special performance with the attention around Rome at the highest it was all season.
As the season went along, it did appear that Alvarez was tweaking his approach in an attempt to add more power at the plate. A .107 ISO over a season is a touch concerning long term. His walk rate also began to drop and strikeout rate rose as the season went on. This could be a case of looking for more power while also be a fatigue issue. This was the first full season of pro ball for Alvarez. Nevertheless, it was still a great season for Nacho who showed great bat to ball skills.
As he moves up to AA, the pitching will become tougher and he will need to continue showing that confidence at the plate along with the approach. Then he needs to continue adding power to his game. Entering his age 21 season, it would be expected that the power would continue to tick up as he ages and fills out his body.
Now what about his defense? Alvarez had a great reputation for being a solid defender entering the Braves organization. However, he entered the system as a third baseman. He was known for his sure hands, arm strength, and a smooth first step. With those tools, the Braves decided after 13 games in rookie ball to shift Alvarez over to shortstop. Most guys will enter a system as a shortstop and move to another position and flourish defensively. Alvarez went the opposite direction and impressed at shortstop.
The belief as we moved into the 2023 minor league season was that Alvarez would handle himself well at shortstop. He did that and more. He was stellar at shortstop throughout the year and proved himself as one of the best defenders in the entire Braves system. Over at Battery Power, Nacho was named as their minor league defensive player of the year.
The few times I got to see Nacho play defense in person, I was impressed. He is a smooth operator and plays the position with confidence. He certainly looks like someone that has a shot to stick at the position.
Moving into 2024, Alvarez will have the most attention on him he's had to this point in his baseball career. As a top prospect, there will be higher expectations as well. To me, Alvarez is more of a floor player rather than a ceiling player. Any prospect is a risk to bust and flame out, but Alvarez's defense (as long as it continues to progress), will earn him longer looks.
The difference is going to be the bat coming along. It will be the difference between Alvarez being a light hitting utilitiy infielder known for his glove or from him being a solid contributor on a contending baseball team. Thankfully for Alvarez, if he reaches the Braves at any point in the near future, he would not need to be an offensive threat. He would just need to serve the team well defensively in the middle of the diamond.
I think there is a chance for Nacho to work his way to the majors in 2024. A bold prediction of mine is that Orlando Arcia starts at shortstop for the Braves in 2024 and Alvarez finishes the year as the team's shortstop. It is a minor shot which would require his bat to develop well this year. 2025 is a safer projection but the Braves are not shy at being aggressive with their top prospects if they believe they can contribute in Atlanta.