After years of meddling as one of baseball’s middle-tier minor league organizations, the Toronto Blue Jays transformed themselves into a Top 10 farm system.
Players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette became two of MLB’s Top 10 prospects and solidified the Blue Jays’ core of promising young players. Among the talk of Guerrero and Bichette, there’s one name who didn’t garner quite as much attention, but he probably should.
That player is Anthony Alford.
He made the leap from Double-A New Hampshire to the big league club in May of 2017, mostly due to the Blue Jays’ necessity for an outfielder. Alford suffered a similar fate as many of his teammates, sustaining an injury shortly after he was called up from the minors.
A broken hamate bone sidelined him for a few months, but a strong showing in the Mexican Winter League turned a lot of heads. His showing this past winter put Alford back on the radar as one of the Blue Jays’ must-watch prospects.
People within the Blue Jays organization rave about Alford’s tools, including John Gibbons, who is firmly entrenched in “Team Alford”. The manager raved about the young outfield prospect on the Jeff Blair Show:
I’ve never seen as big a turnaround in a young player than I’ve seen in Anthony. I remember a couple of springs ago I was here and you see the great athlete, but the baseball skills were missing. That’s not unusual necessarily, but I haven’t seen many guys who were able to overcome that.
Alford is an impressive athlete and as Gibbons indicates, his baseball skills have vastly improved over the past few years. That’s one of the reasons why he’s among Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects for 2018, where he’s currently ranked 60th overall.
Unlike Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, Alford is on the 40-man roster and he’s participating in Spring Training games with the big league club. From all accounts, Alford looks great so far; most impressively, his ability at the plate is turning a lot of heads.
It also helps that he’s surrounded by big leaguers like Josh Donaldson. Alford spoke to the Jays’ third baseman and is picking up tips from the former MVP. Alford coincidentally has a bit of a leg kick in swing and if there was an Obi-Wan Kenobi for leg kicks, Donaldson would be it.
Vlad and Bo could be years away from making an impact on the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster, but Alford already broke the big league barrier. The Blue Jays already have most of their outfield spots sewn up for Opening Day, and yet we may not be talking enough about the upside of Alford.
During Gibbons’ interview on the Fan, he gave a glowing review of Alford’s abilities, but the manager also hinted that if Alford were promoted again to the Major Leagues, it would be for good. Unlike last year’s desperate need for outfielders, the Blue Jays protected themselves with outfield depth ahead of the 2018 season. Ideally, they shouldn’t have to pluck outfield prospects from the minors.
If they do, Alford is the first player who should get the call. Teoscar Hernandez is a little higher on the Blue Jays’ outfielder depth chart, but he’s also an unknown commodity. Is Hernandez closer to the player who clubbed 8 home runs in September last year? Or is he closer to the guy who struck out 36 times in 26 games?
Among the group of prospective outfielders, Alford unquestionably has the most upside among them. And while normally it takes an injury or another transaction to open up a roster spot, Alford could force his way onto the 25-man roster.
Kevin Pillar established himself as the Blue Jays’ centre fielder, but his job isn’t necessarily iron-clad. If another player – Alford, for example – challenged him for the role, suddenly there’s a positional battle in centre field.
After three full seasons and over 2,000 plate appearances, Pillar’s been given ample opportunities to establish his ceiling. Since late April of 2015, his job has been secure, mostly for the fact that there hasn’t been any competition for his job.
That was, until now. If Pillar has another subpar season and Alford plays up to his potential, there’s a good chance Pillar is a non-tender candidate by season’s end and Alford takes the reins in centre field.
Admittedly, that’s a presumptuous forecast for the Blue Jays’ outfield, but it may not even take an injury to one of the Blue Jays’ regulars to present an opening for Alford. He could be promoted on his own accord in the very near future.
If Alford wasn’t getting enough attention before Spring Training started in mid-February, he certainly is now – and should continue to create buzz as one of the Blue Jays’ most talented prospects.