September baseball has a different meaning depending on which team you follow.
For the likes of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, September is all about the fine-tuning. This is when contenders round out their playoff rosters and add the finishing touches to what they hope will turn into a World Series champion. Of course, as good as they both are, the Astros and Dodgers still have very important questions to answer in the last month of the season.
Who cracks the postseason rotation? Who will be the team’s fourth outfielder?
Should we be turning to top prospect Kyle Tucker, or should we continue to believe in veteran Josh Redick come October baseball? Is baseball’s number-two prospect Gavin Lux the answer, or is it Kike Hernandez?
Then there are the teams still vying for playoff spots.
Wild card spots remain up for grabs and division titles still require clinching. For those teams, September is the culmination of a season-long battle of adversity with the hope of ending the final month of the regular season with a postseason berth in hand.
And then there are teams like the Toronto Blue Jays.
With a playoff appearance not in the cards for this season, September presents a final stretch of games where young players can showcase their ability on the major league level in front of the Jays’ decision-makers. Rosters have expanded from 25 to 40 players and the Rogers Centre’s home clubhouse has been injected with even more youth.
September may not hold the same meaning or level of pressure for the Blue Jays as it does for organizations like the Cleveland Indians or the Chicago Cubs, but it still remains important in its own unique way.
With more bodies available at his disposal, it is important for manager Charlie Montoyo to juggle his lineups wisely to provide as many playing opportunities to as many players as possible. Easier said than done as there are only nine spots in the batting order and 27 outs to play with on a nightly basis, barring extra innings. With that in mind, it is simply impossible to split playing time evenly among everybody, therefore the Blue Jays, much like any other ball club in a similar position, must prioritize certain players over others.
Much to the disappointment of a big chunk of the Blue Jays fanbase, it appears as though Anthony Alford has received the short end of the stick.
The disappointment is fair. I understand it.
At one point, Alford was a top-five prospect in the Blue Jays system and even spent some time on the prestigious Pipeline Top-100 list. He was destined to become the outfielder of the Blue Jays future – as integral a part to the team’s future success as Vladdy Guerrero, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio.
To this day, Alford remains one of best athletes in the entire organization, yet this September he has only accumulated 15 at-bats. To this point, he has only played in 12 games on the big league level this season and once the 2019 campaign comes to an end, he is out of options.
Why is Alford not getting more playing time?
Is it justifiable to be upset with the front office’s thought process?
While it seems like the overall consensus is to give the Jays front office crap, it is important to understand the reason behind the Jays madness before poo-pooing their decision. Seemingly far too many people have opted to jump to conclusions, still grasping on for dear life to to the hype that surrounded Alford three years ago, while failing to realize why such a tough decision was made.
Well then, the next logical question that begs an answer is why was such a decision made by the front office?
Since his days as a Pipeline Top-100 guy, Alford has fallen from grace, now occupying the number-20 spot in the Blue Jays prospect rankings according to MLB.com. His days as a Pipeline Top-100 prospect are far behind him.
When drafted out of Ole Miss, it was easy to laud over the raw tools that Alford possessed. The dude came into pro-ball with an absolute toolshed – elite runner, explosive athlete, raw power for days – the hype around Alford was real and for good reason too.
It’s difficult enough to be a D1 baseball player, let alone in the SEC, but two be a two-sport athlete in the SEC? Not many human beings can boast such accolades.
To put things in perspective, I, like most people peaked in high school as an athlete. Alford was playing college football in the same conference as Nick Saban (University of Alabama) and playing baseball in the same conference as Tim Corbin (Vanderbilt University).
That’s absolutely sick!
But being a two-sport athlete can be a gift and a curse.
From one perspective, Alford’s football background has turned him into the incredible athlete he is today. Unlike other tools, athleticism doesn’t slump and in an MLB Draft that is essentially a crapshoot, better athletes have a better shot of clicking on the next level. On the other hand, being a two-sport athlete has taken time away from development, which is why say a prospect like CJ Abrams was viewed as way more polished coming out of high school than say a Jerrion Ealy entering the 2019 MLB Draft. One has only played baseball and has the natural feel for game to go along with the physical tools, while the latter has a high ceiling based on unmatched athleticism.
Some converted football players can put it all together on the baseball diamond, others cannot, but you bet on the athlete every single time as a talent evaluator. To this point, Alford has been unable to translate his raw ability into in-game success and as he continues to age, his top-prospect status will continue to diminish.
This is why I say Jays fans are still desperately relentless in holding onto his 2016 or 2017 hype.
They’re fans. You cannot blame them for doing it. Hell, I see the tools and I want to continue believing in Alford myself.
When a top prospect who was supposed to be such a big part of the team’s future doesn’t pan out as planned, it’s hard to come to grips with the present day circumstances, but that’s the reality of baseball prospects.
Few make it, many do not, even if they did hold a top-100 spot at one point or another.
For Alford, things just haven’t really clicked and I’m not saying they never will, because there have been late bloomers in baseball.
Josh Donaldson is someone Jays fans should be pretty familiar with and things didn’t click with the former AL MVP until his late-20’s. A former first round pick had to go down to the minors to revamp his entire swing and approach at the plate in order to find big league success. The simple truth is there’s not a lot of Josh Donaldsons walking around the face of the planet.
So what is Alford right now?
Well first, the raw athleticism hasn’t translated into success on the defensive side of the ball. The plus-speed helps make Alford somewhat rangey in the outfield, but he has not been able to develop a feel for playing either one of the three outfield positions. Moreover, the arm is below average. MLB Pipeline slaps a 45 grade on the former third rounder’s arm, while Fangraphs has given the arm a 40 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 is deemed average.
Long story short, center field is out of the question.
The only alternatives are the corner spots and realistically speaking, with the likes of Jordan Groshans and Kevin Smith knocking on the door, Biggio could very well be moved from second base to right field at some point and Lourdes Gurriel looks to already have left field locked up for the time being.
Right now, Alford is competing with the likes of Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Randal Grichuk, Jonathan Davis, and Billy McKinney to round out the outfield. An OPS of over .800 since being called back up from the minors has given the Blue Jays reason to give Hernandez another look in 2020 and quite frankly, the Blue Jays seem to really like Fisher and want to give the former first rounder a fresh start next year. Grichuk, despite an underwhelming season, was given a lengthy contract extension at the start of the season, and realistically speaking, his 30-home run power plays in the corner outfield spot. Even Davis, who is older than Alford, has been given more looks despite having options and an underwhelming bat, only because he has comparable speed to Alford and is the team’s best defensive outfielder.
Alford is lost in the shuffle and right field is the only spot that he can realistically win.
In Spring Training, it looked like he made the right adjustments at the plate to bring out his raw power. I, in fact, was very excited when I got to see Alford in the Spring driving the baseball with more authority than he ever has before. If right field was in the cards for Alford on the big league level, he had to hit and moreover, he had to hit for power, because fielding wasn’t his forte and he was already fighting an uphill battle with a below average arm.
More injuries and an inability to translate his Spring success into the minor league season has all but sealed Alford’s fate in this organization and is the reason why he isn’t getting an opportunity to play more. For the most part, Blue Jays fans haven’t seen him play on a consistent basis in the minors, but the Blue Jays brass has and if anyone knows what they’ve got in Alford, it’s the Blue Jays brass.
Don’t get too distracted by his shiny .343 OBP in Triple-A ball.
Alford is already 25 years old.
He strikes out at a near 30% clip in Triple-A, the power hasn’t come as evident by his seven home runs and .152 ISO through his 76 games and 319 plate appearances in Buffalo this season and with a wRC+ of 95 in Triple-A, that should tell you everything you need to know about Alford. He’s 25, he hasn’t yet found his power as he enters the wrong side of his 20’s, he hasn’t developed into a serviceable major league outfielder, and he doesn’t have a proven track record of hitting.
Trust me on this. Jonathan freakin’ Davis does not have a major league calibre bat, yet in September the 27-year old outfielder with options is getting more at-bats than Alford. The Blue Jays front office isn’t stupid. If Alford showed signs of being legit, Grichuk wouldn’t have gotten a contract extension in the first place, Fisher may not have even been acquired at the trade deadline, and Alford would be playing every day on big league fields.
So unless Alford completely revamps his swing for the small chance that it works out, he is more trouble than he’s worth right now for a franchise that needs to focus on building a playoff contender in the very near future. The Jays are looking to take a big step forward in 2020 and unfortunately, the organization cannot continue to believe in a former top prospect who for one thing, hasn’t had a single season in which he remained healthy and who hasn’t produced since the 2017 campaign, back when he was in Double-A facing pitchers who mainly throw fastballs and underwhelming breaking stuff.
Look, I don’t wish failure on any baseball player, or human being for that matter. I genuinely hope things click for Anthony Alford because by all accounts, he’s a standup individual on and off the field, but the reality is, he’s a tooled up football player who at 25 has failed to stay healthy and has failed to put it all together on the baseball field.
It’s time to come to grips with reality.