Toronto Blue Jays Prospects

Blue Jays 2016 Top 30 Prospects #1 – Anthony Alford

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Anthony Alford’s raw skills and athleticism have long been admired by the Blue Jays front office and fans, but his success and surprising polish during his 2015 season has made him one of the game’s top prospects, and the crown jewel of the Jays system heading into 2016.

Hon. Mentions Part 1    Hon. Mentions Part 2    #30: Freddy Rodriguez
#29: Evan Smith    #28: Deiferson Barreto    #27: Chad Girodo
#26: Roemon Fields    #25:  Rodrigo Orozco    #24:  Reggie Pruitt    #23: Joe Biagini
#22:  Carl Wise    #21: Tom Robson   #20: Matt Dean    #19: Andy Burns
#18: Guadalupe Chavez   #17: Ryan Borucki   #16: Jose Espada    #15: Dan Jansen
#14: Dwight Smith Jr.    #13: D.J. Davis    #12: Mitch Nay    #11: Angel Perdomo
#10: Clinton Hollon  #9: Max Pentecost    #8: Justin Maese    #7: Jon Harris
#6: Richard Urena   #5: Sean Reid-Foley   #4: Conner Greene   #3: Rowdy Tellez
#2 Vladimir Guerrero

Alford entered the 2015 season amidst a wide range of expectations. Fans, scouts, and the Jays brass were excited to finally see Alford put in a full season of at bats, but the skeptics we’re pointing to the years he lost due to football and wondered if he would be able to catch up. He represented an exciting yet unknown commodity due to his past football commitments.

Despite those ranging expectations and the intriguing unknown, he didn’t disappoint. In fact, he exceeded the loftiest of expectations, putting together a season that made him a consensus league-wide top 50 prospect.

Name: Anthony Alford
Position: CF         Age: 21
Height: 6’1”    Weight: 205 lbs.
Throws: Right            Bats: Right
Acquired: 3rd round of 2012 draft

From 2012 to 2014, Alford amassed a total of 94 AB’s across three levels, including a very short stint in Lansing. This lack of professional experience created the aforementioned ammunition that skeptics were using to downplay his prospect stock, but he used his natural athleticism and unexpected polish to put together a fantastic campaign.

He actually went to Australia in the winter before the 2015 season in order to get some plate appearances before entering what would be his first full campaign, and while his slash rate left plenty to desire at .200/.316/.315/.631, his flashes of power (3 HR), speed (7 SB), and ability to take a walk (8.9 BB%) showed his upside. More than anything, the time on the field was more valuable than the results.

Alford began the 2015 season in Lansing, playing 50 games there and amassing 232 PA’s and 188 AB’s. He got off to a solid start in April, slashing .294/.368/.412/.780 through 34 AB’s, but in May he went on fire. Through 93 AB’s in 27 games, he hit .297/.480/.387/.867 with a BB:K ratio of 29:29 with 9 SB and 28 runs. He didn’t hit for many extra bases, but he showed the promise he could have as a top-of-the order type of hitter.

He slowed down in the first two weeks of June, but rebounded quickly before he was called up to Dunedin on June 25th. His slash line in Lansing was a very respectable .293/.418/.394/.812 with 1 HR and 12 SB. The home run total was low, but scouts were impressed at his ability to make consistently hard contact, and it’s safe to say his first extended period of professional baseball was a success.

His 143 wRC+ was very impressive (100 is league average). With a minimum of 200 PA’s, Alford ranked tied for 9th in wRC+, and only two players above him were younger. Furthermore, his 16.8% BB% was second in the league, only behind a player two years older than him. That’s quite the feat for a player with such a lack of prior AB’s. An important measuring stick for prospects is age vs. level of competition, and Alford showed that despite being 1.4 years younger than his competition that he can have success.

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Along with all the positives, his strikeout rate was a little high at 25.9%, but that’s one of the only warts from his time at Lansing. He was actually better against RHP’s (.826 OPS) than he was against LHP (.737). Those should even out over time, and it’s a small sample size to begin with, so it’s nothing to worry about.

I’ve decided to measure his time at Lansing and his time at Dunedin as if they were two separate seasons instead of lumping all his numbers into one. In doing so, it’s easier to identify areas where he either improved or got worse after moving up to a higher level that contains more advanced pitching.

Alford hit the ground running in Dunedin, notching multi-hit games in seven of his first 12 games He hit a bit of a rough patch in mid to late July, but the struggles didn’t last long as he was able to recover and finish with strong August and September totals.

He finished his time in Dunedin with a .302/.380/.444/.825 slash line with 3 HR, 15 SB, and BB-K% rates of 11% and 19.2% respectively. His 153 wRC+ through 255 PA’s is a fantastic indicator of his success, and it ranked third in the Florida State League with a minimum of 250 PA’s. He sat behind the Pirates Harold Ramirez (also in his age 20 season) and the Phillies Rhys Hoskins.

Alford was on average 2.6 years younger than his competition, and not only did he have success in the pitcher-friendly FSL, but he managed to improve in a number of areas. His strikeout rate, which was an area of concern in Lansing, went from 25.9% to 19.2%. That’s quite the adjustment for a player in Alford’s situation. While doing so, he improved his ISO from .101 to .142, another positive sign for the athletically gifted outfielder.

Alford’s BABIP’s at the two levels were .419 and .374 respectively, and while he profiles as a high BABIP hitter (sprays the ball, lots of speed), those numbers can’t expect to be repeated. This could have a negative effect on his numbers moving forward.

Alford made the Jays risky $750,000 investment after the 2012 draft well worth it with his 2015 season. His athleticism was always clear, but his refined approach at the plate, ability to work counts, make consistent hard contact to all areas of the field make him a potential top-of-the-order hitter who can play plus defense.

Furthermore, his ability to make adjustments should not be understated. He avoided long-term slumps, which points to a player’s ability to adjust mid-season, and he got better after moving up to a level with older competition and more experienced pitching. Of course, he still has lots of work to do moving forward against AA and AAA pitching, but his 2015 season showed he has the ability to make small adjustments based on the level of competition he’s facing.

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Defensively, his speed is obviously something that allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Keith Law of ESPN described his arm strength and defensive range as plus, and MLB Pipeline gave him a 60 rating for fielding, so his defensive ability has also been getting strong reviews.

His comined season totals of .298/.398/.421/.820 with 4 HR, 27 SB, and a 67:109 BB:K ratio led to some accolades this offseason. He was named as the league’s 42nd best prospect by MLB Pipeline, and 44th by Baseball Prospectus. Furthermore, he cracked Keith Law’s 2015 mid-season prospect update, coming in at 39th, and that was before he finished strong in Dunedin. Law’s updated top prospect list will be unveiled in early February, so that’s something to look forward to. 

Law described his plate discipline as excellent, and noted that he projects above average power for him, and that he should grow into it as he continues to develop. MLB Pipeline also had very good things to say about Alford.

"“Alford stands out for his top-flight athleticism and physical tools, but it’s his mature feel for the game which has scouts excited about his ceiling as a top-of-the-order hitter who can stick in center field. Alford’s plus-plus speed is a weapon on the basepaths as well as in the outfield. The right-handed hitter has some swing-and-miss to his game but makes a lot of hard contact and consistently works deep counts, and his combination of natural hitting ability and a patient approach should help him tap into more power going forward.”"

Alford1
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(2015 Spray Chart – Anthony Alford – Acquired from MLBfarm.com)

The chart above is a spray chart from his 2015 season. His ability to use the whole field is definitely a plus, and his extra base power to the middle of the field is a good thing to see.

Moving forward, Alford should begin the year in AA New Hampshire, and if he doesn’t start there, he should be there in relatively short order. If he succeeds, he should find some time in AAA in the second half of the year. He could be a potential September call-up if all goes right, but predicting something like that at this point in time is difficult.

Skills wise, I’d like to see Alford tap into some of his raw power, while continuing to hold a strong walk rate. His strikeout rate will be an interesting area to watch and it will be a good indicator of whether or not he’s adjusting to better pitching.

Ultimately, asking for a repeat performance in terms of wRC+ is probably too tall of a task for the 21-year-old in his first taste of AA, and he’s bound to hit some speed bumps. But there’s no questioning he has the talent and upside to be an impact major leaguer, and his development will be an interesting story line for Jays fans in 2016.

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