Blue Jays: Anthony Alford Proving You Should Always Bet on the Athlete
How a couple of minor adjustments at the plate helped fuel Anthony Alford’s eye-opening Spring.
As the Toronto Blue Jays wrapped up Spring Training on home soil, the focus immediately turned toward the regular season and of course, the home opener.
Actually, that might have been a tiny bit too dramatic.
Spring Training is long, real long, so the focus has really been on the regular season for quite some time now. Water under a bridge.
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That being said, on Thursday afternoon, the bright lights of the Rogers Centre will be on.
A wave of blue and white will be surrounding the diamond, and Marcus Stroman will take the bump with some variation of Mike Stud music trailing him as he runs out the dugout for the 3:37 tentatively-scheduled first pitch.
Oh, and virtually everything edible and/or drinkable inside the venue will be under five bucks – sign me up and inject some regular season baseball into my veins!
But before we get too ahead of ourselves and start imagining of a world in which Vlady Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette both have 50 home runs by June and the MLB has no choice but to hand over the 2021 World Series championship to the Jays, let’s look back and reflect at the Spring Training that was. And while it’s fairly clear that Bichette, with his .899 batting average, was the team’s best player through and through in March, a valid case can be made that Anthony Alford was one of the team’s most pleasant surprises.
Now, understandably, I realize that at times it is easy to go over-board when drawing expectations from the small sample size that is Spring Training, but from time to time, you see promise in the little things.
One of those little things was the eye-opening performance of Alford.
Alford had 39 plate appearances across 16 Spring Training games in big league camp, in which he slashed .242/.342/.978. However, it was his slugging four home runs all in the span of time that it takes to receive a medium double-double from a relatively quiet Tim Hortons that has made the ears of baseball world perk right up.
As the buzz continues to grow around the likes of Bichette, Guerrero, Danny Jansen, and even Cavan Biggio, Nate Pearson and Eric Pardinho, it appears as though most people, Jays fans and prospect evaluators alike have forgotten all about Alford – and it’s hard to really blame them.
Already 24-years old, Alford is considered to be on the older side of the scale as far as elite prospects go. A supremely talented athlete coming out of high school, Alford played both baseball and football at Ole Miss before being drafted in the third round by the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2012.
Now, 2012 was a while ago.
Ricky Romero was the team’s opening starter that same year. Eric Thames was still a Blue Jay and looked like a mere mortal. J.P. Arencibia was considered the team’s franchise catcher. Yet, by 2015, Alford was already ranked the Jays’ second best prospect.
But as the years went on, Alford continued to remain atop the Jays’ farm system rankings, yet was unable to secure a spot on the Major League roster – and that is not to say that he hasn’t had his fair share of opportunities.
In light of the Kendrys Morales trade, a spot cleared up on the Opening Day roster for Alford. As the Blue Jays go through a transition year, it really is starting to feel like it is only matter of time before Alford locks down a role with the ball club and at the very least, his chance do so is now. What is important now is for Alford to be able to translate his strong Spring Training play into the regular season.
But why was Alford’s performance in Spring Training so eye-opening?
It all really starts with a few minor adjustments that he has made at the plate. And this isn’t just a bunch of eyewash, Alford looks legit!
Now, let’s break things down.
In the gif above, on the left we see a younger Alford from a couple of years ago hitting in Arizona Fall League action. The same swing we see on the left side has led the outfielder to seemingly plateau at the upper levels of the minors. On the right, we see Alford taking a home run cut in a Spring Training game this past March.
While at first glance, both swings look relatively similar, it’s the finer points and the true intricacies of each swing that bring the scouting eye to the forefront.
Let’s use a top-down approach to analyze Alford’s adjustments.
The first thing visible is his hand positioning. On the right, he loads his hands quieter, he starts them off higher up, which allows him to be quicker to the baseball and generate more bat speed. He shows off his quick wrists, while remaining inside the baseball, and now has a flatter bat path and finer control of the barrel. With his hands now doing less, he is able to allow his plus athleticism to take over do the bulk of the work.
Transitioning down to his lower half, the differences are subtle, but on the right side of the gif, Alford appears stronger on his front side. He uses his front leg similar to how pitchers use their front leg as a blocker. It allows Alford to transfer his weight over from his back side effectively and provides him with the leverage necessary in his swing.
Overall, he has become more efficient in his swing. He is able to keep his weight on his back leg preventing him from drifting forward towards the baseball – instead, he is now able to sit, cut off some of the wasted movements, and drive the baseball as he goes through his refined swing.
Hitting a baseball is very reliant on the kinetic chain, which is a string of biomechanical movements that start from the bottom-up, harnessing potential energy and transferring it into kinetic energy. Alford has seemingly found the way to effectively utilize the kinetic chain to improve his swing.
Power is the tool that more often than not comes last for baseball prospects and with Alford, it finally seems to be coming along. His Spring Training performances were no fluke and there are reasons why scouts are suddenly back to buying in on Alford’s stock.
Not every prospects travels up the minors on the same trajectory. For some it takes longer than others, but that being said, if you ever have the option, always bet on the athlete.