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The New Look Phillies, part five: Jorge Alfaro

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Can Jorge Alfaro be a regular catcher?

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Let’s talk more about the New Look Philadelphia Phillies. . .

Catcher Jorge Alfaro (.241, 7, 34 in 84 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley; .318, 5, 12 in 29 games with Phillies)

Boy, oh boy. Where to begin with this kid? I guess we'll begin at the beginning...

Alfaro was signed out of Colombia by the Texas Rangers as a NDFA in 2010 for $1.3 million, the most-ever given to a Colombian prospect. Spending his initial season in the Dominican Summer League, Alfaro came into the pro ranks expecting to acclimate immediately, and when it didn't happen he put more pressure on himself than he should have and it took him most of the season to right the ship. He would finish his inaugural pro season having struck out in 25.7% of his 187 PA (vs a BB pct of 2.7%), a wOBA of .285, and an OPS of .569, all terrible numbers, but numbers posted by a 17 year-old kid.

It's also important to note that he was not only seventeen; he was seventeen, playing as a pro for the first time (as mentioned), and converting to catcher from being a third baseman. More on that, later.

The 2011 season found Alfaro bumped up to the short-season Spokane Indians, where his production increased dramatically (.300, 9 doubles, 6 homers, 23 RBI, wRC+ 129), though his BB/K ratio was once again just awful (2.3% BB, 31.6% K). He certainly benefited from a .420 BABIP, but he was getting over pretty well for his age. He was still putting a lot of balls on the ground (57.7%) but the few pitches he managed to elevate were flying out of the park at a 19.4% clip, a sign of better things to come.

In 2012, Alfaro was once again moved up, this time to the Class-A Hickory Crawdads. In his age 19 season he started to cut loose (.261, 21 doubles, 5 triples, 5 homers, 34 RBI in 74 games). Alfaro's athleticism played into his spike in extra-base totals, just as much as his developing plus-to-double-plus raw power, though he dealt with shoulder inflammation and a hamstring injury that held him to 29 games behind the dish and 17 appearances at first base.

Inaccurate throws and the aforementioned shoulder issue limited his CS rate to 15%, but his arm strength was obviously top-of-the-line. It was around this time that Alfaro found himself climbing the Top 100 prospect rankings, as Baseball Prospectus ranked him 101st among all prospects, and the baseball world began to take significantly more notice of him.

Alfaro was still putting undue pressure on himself, it seemed, and continued to work in the Puerto Rican League with Hector Ortiz, a Rangers catching instructor. At the end of the season, Baseball America ranked him the Best Defensive Catcher in the Rangers organization, likely due more to the aforementioned arm strength and agility than his stats.

Alfaro repeated in Class-A Hickory in 2013, this time playing in a career-high 104 games and posting a .258 average with 22 doubles, 16 homers, and 53 RBI, even swiping 16 bases, reflective of his high-end athleticism and some of the best wheels of any catching prospect at the time.

A broken hand cost him nearly a month in the middle of the season, so his totals could have been significantly higher. Alfaro was still young for the league, nearly two years younger than league average, but was coming into his own offensively.

While he showed improvement behind the plate, however, especially in terms of footwork, he still allowed an alarming 28 passed balls in 82 games at catcher for Hickory. On the bright side, Alfaro gunned down 36% of base thieves, showing improved pop times approaching 1.8 seconds.

The Rangers moved him to High-A Myrtle Beach for the 2014 season, where Alfaro picked up where he left off in Hickory (.261, 13, 73, 22 doubles, 5 triples, wRC+ 112). In 75 games at catcher, he still struggled with blocking (18 passed balls, 13 errors), but the raw receiving tools and the possibility that his game would eventually come together continued to impress the Rangers.

The 22 year-old Alfaro moved on in 2015 to Double-A and the Frisco RoughRiders in the Texas League, where he batted .253 with 15 doubles, five homers and 21 RBI, before losing nearly the rest of the season to a broken left ankle that required surgery.

On top of moving to a far more difficult level, Alfaro packed his bags for a new team and a new league when the Phillies acquired him, Nick Williams, righties Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff, and lefty ML vet Matt Harrison for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman.

It was a move that brought potentially key players to the Phillies organization, and then-GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. speculated that Alfaro's athleticism could allow him to acclimate to a new position if catching didn't work out. At the end of the 2015 season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Alfaro #31 on their Top 100, while MLB had him at #45 and Baseball America put him at #67 overall.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 season saw Alfaro moving on to Double-A Reading, where he did quite well for himself, batting .285 with 21 doubles, 15 homers and 67 RBI in only 97 games. His work behind the plate improved as well, as he finished with a .993 fielding percentage, making six errors and allowing seven passed balls. This was definite progress for Alfaro, as he made a career-high 95 appearances at catcher while facing advanced competition over a much longer stretch than he had in Double-A Frisco.

On September 12th 2016, Alfaro made his MLB debut at Philly vs. the Pirates, picking up a pinch-hit single in the 8th inning. He would only pick up one more hit during that short stint with the Phillies, a single at Citi Field on September 25th.

Alfaro began 2017 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he posted a slash of .241/.291/.358 in 83 games, again going down on strikes frequently (113 in 350 PA). A recall to the Phillies on August 5th seemed to energize him, as he batted .318 with 6 doubles, 5 homers and 14 RBI in 29 games, while posting an OPS of .874 in the process.

While his Triple-A numbers were less than impressive, his performance in the big leagues was promising. He did give up nine passed balls in 77 games at catcher with Lehigh Valley, but made only two errors and cut down 33% of base-stealers.

There is a ton of power in Alfaro's bat. When he does square up a pitch, it's likely to travel. The problem is that he doesn't get as many opportunities to showcase what is well-above-plus power because of his trouble with pitch recognition.

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Alfaro is a free-swinger, and will likely never draw a lot of walks, but if he can learn to recognize breaking pitches with greater frequency and refrain from chasing (even a little bit), he could be a legitimate power threat in Philly's lineup. He has quick hands and attacks the pitch, and at times appears fearless at the plate. Repetition vs advanced pitchers and work with the hitting instructors seems to be all he needs, at the moment, and that could push him to turn the corner.

Speaking of the aforementioned power, Alfaro is not a one-dimensional player. He runs very well for a catcher, rating at MLB average, and as a converted infielder he has the quickness to take more aggressive leads than many slower catcher might, and snag that extra base with some regularity.

He also moves well behind the plate, certainly enough to range in front of even the wildest pitches, but he'll need to continue to refine his blocking and reading and reacting to wayward pitches. These are both things that he should be able to improve.

Even with his skills, Alfaro is at least a year or so away from a full-time role. The plus side is that his floor is rather high. I would say it would be as a second catcher and part-time starter with power who can control the running game well, but his ceiling may be as a run-producing starter who pops 20-25 homers a season, with a generous smattering of doubles, and maybe even a handful of steals here and there.

The 2018 season should find him breaking camp with the Phils. With that in mind, keep an eye on his Spring Training performance; he's got half a chance to come out of the gate hot.

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