The Philadelphia Phillies have one of baseball’s most improved minor league organizations, and a catcher obtained in a big trade is now the top prospect.
For the last week, I’ve been counting down the Philadelphia Phillies current top ten prospects. Now we’ve reached the top spot in this vastly improved organization.
Texas had originally signed Alfaro as a 16-year old amateur free agent out of his native Sincelejo, Colombia back in January of 2010.
He advanced incrementally through the Rangers farm system, first popping up on prospect rankings at #101 by Baseball Prospectus in 2012. By the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Alfaro was a top 75 prospect with all of the major evaluation services.
ALFARO IN THE PHILLIES SYSTEM
This year, Alfaro got his first opportunity to play a full season at one stop in the minors. In 435 plate appearances at AA Reading he hit for a .285 average with 15 homers, 21 doubles, 67 RBI, and was an Eastern League All-Star.
Alfaro actually received his first big league promotion near the end of August. But this was just a one game emergency call-up after the Phils had dealt Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and were still awaiting A.J. Ellis arrival.
He helped the Reading club reach the postseason this year, but a couple of misplays by Alfaro cost the club dearly in their playoff opener against Trenton. One was on a wild pitch that he probably should have blocked, another on a throw that was a case of being overly aggressive.
“He’s always aggressive with his arm,” said Reading manager Dusty Wathan, a former catcher, per Philly.com’s Matt Gelb. “If he makes a good throw, he probably gets him. So it’s hard to fault him for trying to throw him out there.”
The youngster was less forgiving of himself: “I should have just kept the ball in my hand,” Alfaro said per Gelb. “I was too aggressive with the throw. We’re humans. We’re here to learn. I hope I learn from that and it won’t happen again.”
Once Reading was eliminated from the Eastern League playoffs, the Phillies liked enough of what they had seen from the 23-year old in both production and maturity to give him more of a taste of the big leagues.
A TASTE OF THE BIG LEAGUES
Alfaro appeared in a half-dozen games with the Phillies in his cup of coffee audition. He had two hits and a walk over the first 17 plate appearances over what is sure to be a lengthy big league career.
He made four starts, catching a full game three different times. In three of those starts he handled 24-year old Alec Asher, who he was familiar with from both the Rangers and Phillies minor leagues.
In a fourth start, Alfaro handled 22-year old Jake Thompson, again a pitcher with whom he had familiarity from both organizations.
MLB Pipeline currently ranks Alfaro as the Phillies #4 prospect behind J.P. Crawford, Mickey Moniak, and Nick Williams. Those players ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 5th in my current Fall 2016 Phillies Top Ten.
ALFARO MLB SCOUTING REPORT
The MLB scouting report on him reads as follows:
"“Alfaro has two plus tools as his calling cards: his power bat and his power arm. He has a ton of raw pop from the right side, but he has yet to refine his approach and strike-zone judgement in order to tap into it consistently. Alfaro has as strong an arm as just about any catching prospect in the game, but the rest of his defensive tools remain a work in progress. Injuries have certainly stunted his development. Alfaro has played some first base in games and done some work in the outfield, and he is athletic enough to handle such a move if it’s necessary.The Phils got their first real look at Alfaro in 2016, and they had to like what they saw. There’s time for him to still develop into a big league regular behind the plate. A full, healthy season would help him receive the needed reps to get there.”"
ALFARO BASEBALL PROSPECTUS SCOUTING REPORT
In early November, Baseball Prospectus released the Top Phillies Prospects for 2017. They had Alfaro at #2 on their list, behind only Crawford. Their “good” and “bad” report on him reads as follows:
“The Good: His throwing arm is as good as anyone in the game. His raw power is legendary, going back to whispers from Jason Parks (R.I.P.) on Arizona backfields shortly after he signed. His overall hitting ability plays well given the position, and he’s specifically improved his ability to hit the ball to all fields. He’s unusually athletic for a catcher, and possesses average-to-above speed. Notice that there’s no caveat there, because he runs well in general, not just for a catcher.
The Bad: Alfaro’s elite raw power hasn’t yet translated well into game power. While that can come late, especially for catchers, his power output in Reading was dwarfed by lesser prospects like Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins. His defensive game has improved greatly since Philadelphia acquired him, but he’s not Jonathan Lucroy yet either, and it’s still a little up in the air if he ultimately lands at a new position.”
THE FUTURE FOR ALFARO
After the MLB season ended, Alfaro headed down south to play in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 57 at-bats with Tiburones de La Guaira he is hitting .263 with a pair of homers, five doubles, 10 runs scored and 10 RBI.
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Putting Alfaro into the #1 overall Phillies prospect slot ahead of Crawford is a nod from me that I believe he can stick in that premium position behind the plate.
However, Alfaro has enough athletic ability, power potential, and a strong enough arm to play right field. He also could develop enough of a bat to profile as a first baseman.
Looking back through Phillies recent history at the better catchers who have been regulars with the club, the likelihood is that we won’t see Alfaro become the starting catcher for a while yet.
Bob Boone and Mike Lieberthal, both Phillies Wall of Famers, were 25 years old when each became a regular in 1973 and 1997 respectively. Carlos Ruiz didn’t take over as the regular catcher until he was 28 years old in 2007.
Alfaro won’t turn 24 years old until next June. I can easily see him beginning the season as the starting catcher with AAA Lehigh Valley, then receiving a promotion once again to Philly at some point during the summer.
Assuming he isn’t traded, Cameron Rupp will enter spring training as the Phillies starting catcher. Depending upon Alfaro’s defensive development, it may be the last season that Rupp holds that status.