Sunday, July 31, 2016

Anthony Alford is On His Way

Sportsnet.ca photo

      After a breakout season in his first year as a full-time baseball player in 2015, Blue Jays prospect Anthony Alford carried a heavy burden of expectations as the organization's top prospect.  The broad-shouldered former two-sport star, who teammates call The Freak due to his athletic gifts, seemed poised to continue his ascent up the ladder.
   Sent back to Dunedin, where he spent half of last season, Alford figured to only be in Florida til mid-June, with a promotion to New Hampshire seemingly almost an automatic thing.  A blogger and Alford even joked that they might renew acquaintances in Buffalo before the summer was out.
   A funny thing happened to Alford on the way to the Niagara Frontier, of course - he was injured in a home plate collision on the D-Jays Opening Night, and missed a month rehabbing his knee.  He was just beginning to get his timing back in early June, when he collided with SS Richard Urena chasing a shallow pop fly, and missed over a week with a concussion.
   Come mid-July, Alford was scuffling, hitting just .188, and had been supplanted on most top Blue Jays prospects lists.  He admits that we was at a low ebb, telling MiLB.com's Kelsie Henneghan, "I know my numbers are not looking good or how everybody expected, but I'm at a point now where I'm not trying to live up to everyone's expectations."  This year was also his first extended taste of failure in what is still a relatively young baseball career, despite Alford being drafted in 2012.  He told Henneghan:
"I'm just learning, learning more about myself. This season has been a good learning season for me because I've never had to deal with failure. I've failed a lot this year. I guess that's something I needed to go through.  I'm not afraid to fail because I know myself and I know my ability and my mind-set. I'm going to overcome it and I'm going to make the adjustment because that's just who I am as an athlete."
   Alford has always been upbeat, however, and has begun to turn things around.  He credits Blue Jays 2B Devon Travis, who spent time rehabbing with him in May, has become a close friend, and 1B Chris Colabello, who was based in Dunedin while serving his PED suspension, with helping him get back on track.  After an 0-4 on July 15th, he reached base safely in 10 consecutive games, and hit .306 over that span.  Alford said the highlight of that run was on his 22nd birthday, July 20th, when he suited up alongside a rehabbing Jose Bautista in the outfield, and the pair homered in that game.

    After a 3-4 performance in which he was a triple shy of the cycle last night, Alford is now hitting .342 over his last 10 games, and much of the contact he's made during that time has been of the hard variety.  With 81Ks in 260 PAs, he does tend to strike out a lot for a leadoff hitter, but that total has been influenced by rust suffered as a result of his two layoffs.  Alford sees a lot of pitches almost every at bat, with this sequence from a few days ago being fairly representative:


MiLB.com Gameday

   Alford took a pair of pitches, patiently fouled off a pair of borderline ones, then hammered a triple off the wall when the pitcher caught too much of the strike zone looking for a punchout.  Because he has so many Quality At Bats, Alford does find himself in a lot of two-strike counts, and we have to remember that he's still raw in terms of baseball experience - he will likely always have Kenny Lofton-like K totals, but he will cut down on them as he learns to control the zone better.  An overlooked benefit of seeing so many pitches is that Alford's teammates get a chance to see what kind of stuff the opposing pitcher has that day.

   Finally, Alford is beginning to show that ability to get on base, and become a distraction with his game-changing speed that had him rocket up the prospect rankings last year.  Always able to put things in perspective, Alford is philosophical about his struggles this year:
Most definitely, it's been an emotional roller coaster for me this year. On and off the field. I've learned a lot though.  But it does suck being injured a lot.
   It will be interesting to see how the rest of his season develops.  If he continues this streak of mastering Florida State League hitters, does the club give him a bigger challenge by promoting him to New Hampshire, or do they allow him to experience a long run of success with Dunedin?   Whatever the case, Alford is clearly back on track, and ready to reclaim his spot at the top of the Blue Jays prospect list.

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