It woud be quite understandable if Toronto Blue Jays OF prospect Anthony Alford was, to put it midlly, a prickly sort.
He had a difficult upbringing (Mom and Dad have had legal problems involving drug trafficking), and he it would have been easy for the Mississippi two time top high school football and baseball player of the year to have a massive ego.
But he doesn't. And he's not prickly. Just the opposite, in fact.
The Blue Jays made Alford their 3rd round choice in 2012. His draft stock had fallen because he had committed to Southern Miss to play Quarterback. Toronto was content to allow Alford to chase his gridiron dream, and play an abbreviated baseball schedule sandwiched in between college football seasons.
After some off field problems his freshman year, Alford transferred to Ole Miss, and switched to defense. Still, he continued to wow scouts in his month-long forays into the Gulf Coast League, and the Blue Jays promoted him to Lansing in 2014, most likely so that senior execs could make the drive to Michigan and wave a bundle of cash at Alford to change his sporting mind.
Alford returned to Ole Miss that fall (after sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules), and newly married, picked up his football career. For several reasons, it lasted less than two months, as Alford had a change of heart, and decided to focus on baseball.
In a relatively short time, he's made tremendous progress. Sent to the Australian Winter League that fall for a crash course in pitch recognition (Alford had just over 100 plate appearances in his first shortened three pro seasons), he had a breakout season in 2015, and made many Top 100 prospects lists after just one campaign of full season ball.
2016 was a sideways year for Alford at Dunedin, as injuries kept him out of the lineup for a good chunk of the first half, but he regained his form in the second. Sent to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for top prospects in October, he more than held his own against elite competition.
Promoted to New Hampshire this year, Alford did not miss a beat with the promotion from High A to AA - the biggest leap, development wise, in the minors. Before missing a few days with an injury, Alford was hitting as high as .469/.544/.653.
What should we expect from Alford? Game-changing speed on both sides of the ball, as well as an advanced approach at the plate. Alford works deep into counts, and uses the whole field. While he draws more than his fair share of walks, there is a swing-and-miss element to his game, although he has cut down on the K's over the past season. Alford used to have quite a bit of movement in his set up, but has quieted that down over the last year. His power has just started to develop, and it's easy to see him hitting double-digit home runs in the Rogers Centre. He has stong arms and wrists (his time in the weight room as a football player have left him with quite the physique), and generates plenty of bat speed.
On the bases, he may not challenge for stolen base titles due to past injury concerns, but he is definitely a distraction for oppostion pitchers. In the field, there is still some question as the the quality of reads he gets on balls, but he has excellent reactions to the ball, has an explosive first step, and gets to the ball quickly. It's surprising that the former QB has an arm that's been described as fringy, and while he's not Amos Otis, he unloads strong and accurate throws to the infield. He will not supplant incumbent CF Kevin Pillar just yet, but that day is fast approaching.
Off the field, Alford is friendly and engaging, and he always seems to have huge smile. He runs a mentoring program for troubled kids back home, and he finds the time to correspond with a humble prospect blogger on a regular basis. When you write about these kids, it's always a kick to see one of them make the big time, even if it's only for a cup of coffee. Anthony Alford may only be up for a brief period this time around, but he's destined to have a long and successful major league career.