By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player's season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays' plans going forward.
We begin at the top of the alphabet with Anthony Alford. If you asked me at the beginning of year if I thought that the former football player turned high-ranking prospect was going to crack the big leagues in 2017, I'd have said, "probably not until September." But Alford actually made his big league debut all the way back in May and didn't get any big-league time in September so let's see how that happened.
Manager John Gibbons had taken notice of the 23-year-old outfielder in spring training (Alford was invited after being added to the 40-man roster last November), saying "You look at raw talent, he's got as much as anybody you'll ever see." Arden Zwelling also quoted Gibbons as saying "I don't think I've ever seen as much improvement in a year in a young kid as I have in him."
In 32 at bats in the spring, Alford showed off his power, hitting two doubles, a triple and a home run among six hits in 32 at bats, but also showed why I was doubtful that Alford would be in the big leagues so early: he struck out 15 times in those 32 at bats while walking only once.
Alford was assigned to double-A New Hampshire after spring training was through and he leapt out of the starting blocks, getting multi-hit games in his first four and having a .356/.427/.507 slash line through April. In May, Alford cooled off, but still maintained a strong walk rate, hitting .280/.390/.380 with just 10 strikeouts in 59 plate appearances before his call to the bigs.
But what circumstances necessitated his call? Well, injuries to Steve Pearce and Darrell Ceciliani were part of the equation. With Dalton Pompey out with a concussion, Dwight Smith was already in the major leagues. And when Kevin Pillar was suspended for uttering a homophobic slur, Alford became the man to take his roster spot.
Alford played in all of four games for the Blue Jays, going 0-for-6 with two strikeouts in his first three. In game number four, Alford got his first major league hit, a double, and then broke his hamate bone on a swing that resulted in a foul ball later the in the game. Alford went on the DL to end his first stint in the major leagues.
Alford began his rehab with the class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays on July 12 and went 3-for-21 with a hit-by-pitch and eight strikeouts before being optioned back to the minors and sent back to double-A. Finishing out July with nine games, Alford struggled at first but capped the month off with a 3-for-5 game that included a double and a home run, giving him a .258/.425/.419 slash line for the month.
Alford played for New Hampshire in August, hitting .308/.393/.396 with five doubles and a home run, and finished the season playing three games in triple-A Buffalo, going 4-for-12 with a walk, two strikeouts and a double.
Overall, it was an eventful year for Alford as he got his feet wet in the major leagues. What is 2018 going to portend for Alford? My prediction is that he's going to get much more big league time this coming season than he did in 2017, although I can see him getting most of his reps in triple-A Buffalo. Injuries have followed him every year and that's one thing that I'm going to look for an improvement. I also want to see Alford cut down his strikeouts at the major-league level to the 25% range while he continues to show off his gap power and hit for a significant number of extra-base hits. In double-A, he had a .118 Isolated Slugging (ISO), a rather low number for an outfielder. I'd like to see him lift that into the .160-.175 range and if he can do that while keeping his walk rate up, he's going to be a legitimate option in the Blue Jays' outfield in 2018 and beyond.
Alford has less than a year of service time this year and used his first option year in 2017.
Regular Season Grades
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