What to expect from Blue Jays' Alford in big leagues
By Mike Rosenbaum
The Toronto Blue Jays promoted Anthony Alford, the organization's No. 3 prospect, to the Major Leagues on Friday ahead of their weekend series in Baltimore. He assumed the roster spot of Darrell Ceciliani, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list after suffering a left shoulder injury on Thursday night.
No. 62 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, Alford is making the jump to the big leagues directly from Double-A New Hampshire, where he had produced a .325/.411/.455 batting line, with 10 extra-base hits (including three home runs), 18 runs scored and nine steals in 33 games.
Alford, 22, recorded at least one hit in 24 of those contests, including 12 multihit performances, and he was swinging the bat especially well of late, batting .440/.558/.600 with 11 hits and five walks in his last seven games for the Fisher Cats.
Alford was regarded by scouts as one of the premier athletes in the 2012 Draft, and he likely would have been selected in the first round if not for his commitment to play quarterback at Southern Mississippi. The Blue Jays, undeterred by Alford's situation, took the Petal, Miss., native in the third round and signed him with a $750,000 bonus.
With a potential career in baseball to fall back on, Alford spent much of the next three years focused on football. He struggled to progress on the gridiron, though, staying just one season at Southern Mississippi before transferring to Mississippi and becoming a defensive back. All that changed in the fall of 2014, when Alford, who had logged just 25 Minor Leagues games in three years since signing, announced that he was leaving Ole Miss early to pursue baseball full time.
After totaling 110 plate appearances from 2012-14, Alford's transition back to the diamond went remarkably smoothly. In 2015, his first full season in the Minors, he batted .298/.398/.421 with 36 extra-base hits, 27 steals and 67 walks in 107 games between two Class A levels.
But Alford was unable to build on his breakout performance the following year, as a knee injury on Opening Day and a concussion in June cost him much of the first half of the season with Class A Advanced Dunedin. Though he righted the ship at the midseason mark to hit .257/.381/.449 with eight home runs and 13 steals over his final 59 contests, Alford still finished his season with an underwhelming .236/.344/.378 slash line in 92 games.
That big second half carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where Alford posted a .789 OPS with three home runs, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 23 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. After the AFL's completion, the Blue Jays added him to their 40-man roster.
In terms of physical ability, there are few prospects who can match Alford's dynamic set of tools.
A right-handed hitter, Alford's combination of bat speed and strength enables him to make consistent hard contact. The plus raw power he's shown during batting practice has started to translate to games, and he proved during the Arizona Fall League that he's capable of hitting tape-measure shots to the deepest parts of the field. Scouts, meanwhile, believe that Alford will develop even more thump with additional experience.
Strikeouts have been an issue for Alford in his first two full seasons, as he fanned 29.2 percent of the time last year after striking out a 22.4 percent clip in 2015. The 22-year-old outfielder has lowered that number to 17 percent in 2017 -- thanks largely to an improved setup in the box and a better starting point for his hands -- and he continues to demonstrate an advanced approach that belies his experience level. Overall, Alford has walked 13 percent of the time in his career, posting a .375 on-base percentage in 257 games.
Alford's plus-plus speed is his loudest tool, one that receives 70 grades from scouts (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and it enables him to impact games both on the basepaths and in center field, where he projects as a plus defender with good range and enough arm strength for left field. He's seen time at all three outfield positions this season in the Eastern League, though a majority of his reps have come in center.
Time will tell whether the Blue Jays intend to keep Alford on the roster after Kevin Pillar (suspension) and Ceciliani return to action, but it's hard to believe that club would risk derailing the 22-year-old's development by ascribing him to a bench role and limiting his at-bats in the Major Leagues.
The Blue Jays believe that Alford, despite his relative inexperience, is ready to contribute at the highest level after his red-hot start in Double-A. He's sure to go through some growing pains, whether it's as an everyday player or as a bench asset, like any younger player. But there's little doubt that Alford has the athleticism, tools and maturity to be a long-term impact player.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.