When the Twins traded reliever Ryan Pressly to the Astros near the Trade Deadline in 2018, they brought back two lower-level prospects they hoped would be big leaguers. Outfielder Gilberto Celestino still has a ways to go, but Alcala got there in mid-September last year, making two appearances out of the bullpen during the Twins’ playoff push. This came on the heels of a year spent mostly in the Double-A rotation, where he had mixed results.
There’s no question about Alcala’s arm strength. The 6-foot-3 right-hander can bring it, with a fastball that now regularly sits in the 95-98 mph range with good life to it. His slider had become his go-to out pitch and it can be nasty at times. Sometimes it runs into his curve, sometimes they are distinct pitches, but the slider is much better than the curve at this point. He does have a changeup that he might not need as much coming out of the bullpen.
While Alcala’s ERA was certainly bloated in 2019, there were peripherals that were more encouraging. He missed a lot more bats than he had in previous seasons, and he did find the strike zone a bit more consistently, though his overall command is still an issue. If he’s a full-time reliever, it doesn’t have to be pinpoint, but he’ll have to learn to throw better quality strikes with his power stuff to have more of an impact in the big leagues.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Not every success story from the international market is a high-profile, big bonus signing. Alcala signed with the Astros for just $10,000 in December 2014 and he was already 19 years old when he joined the organization. He climbed steadily through Houston's system and had reached Double-A shortly before he was sent along with Gilberto Celestino to the Twins in the Ryan Pressly deal.
The Twins didn't get the best look at Alcala after the trade, as the right-hander was a little dinged up and fatigued at season's end, so they are excited to see him at full strength. Alcala has watched his velocity climb as he's progressed and is now up in the 95-98 mph range consistently with good life. His secondary stuff has gotten better, and he missed more bats in 2018, though he's still working on their refinement. His slider and curve are both power breaking balls that run into each other at times and his changeup does get too firm.
More than anything, it will be Alcala's command that determines his ultimate role. He will have to find the strike zone on a more regular basis to remain a starter, something the Twins will be evaluating this year, knowing that seeing triple digits from Alcala in shorter relief stints is a distinct possibility.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 50
Eligible to sign as a 16-year-old Dominican in July 2011, Alcala had to wait more than three years before the Astros gave him a $10,000 bonus in December 2014. He has enjoyed consistent success since turning pro, posting a 2.87 ERA while reaching Class A Advanced in his first three seasons. His fastball continues to improve, repeatedly touching 99 mph in each of his starts during the last three months of 2017, maxing out at 102. The Twins liked his stuff enough to get him as part of the trade that sent Ryan Pressly to the Astros in late July.
Alcala's heater sat at 93-95 mph during his 2016 U.S. debut and operated at 95-98 last year. He has life on his fastball too, though he doesn't miss as many bats as expected yet because the quality of his secondary pitches fluctuates. His upper-80s slider and low-80s curveball are more notable for their velocity than their bite and can get slurvy at times, while his changeup can get too firm.
Alcala does show aptitude for making adjustments, so there is belief he can remain a starter. His control and command also need refinement, but he's making progress in both areas. If he does wind up in the bullpen, he has closer potential and could regularly hit 100 mph in shorter stints.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
The Astros have a number of young and intriguing pitchers from Latin America, and Alcala features the best combination of stuff and polish. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in December 2014, he made his U.S. debut last season and struck out 70 in 56 innings across three levels.
Alcala has a strong arm that routinely delivers 93-95 mph fastballs and can hit the upper 90s. He does a nice job of locating his mid-80s slider, which is a plus pitch at times but slurvy at others. His changeup doesn't have enough separation from his fastball yet, but he isn't afraid to throw it and it figures to develop into an average offering.
Alcala likes to challenge hitters and shows signs of being able to command his secondary pitches. He had trouble maintaining his stuff while pitching out of the stretch last summer, so Houston had him address that problem by working solely out of the stretch during instructional league play -- and his fastball topped out at 99 mph. He has yet to reach full-season ball but the makings of a No. 3 starter are there.