Jorge Alfaro’s physical tools have put him in the prospect conversation for years — he’s cracked Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 prospects in each of the past five seasons, for example — but his on-field performance has always left something to be desired. He hit a respectable-for-a-catcher .253/.314/.432 in an injury-shortened season at Double-A level last year, but his plate discipline was poor. Although he demonstrated enticing power, his 4% walk rate and 29% strikeout rate hinted at serious issues with his approach.
He’s seemingly begun to make the right adjustments this year, as he’s hacked six points off of his strikeout rate without sacrificing much power. In just under 400 plate appearances in Double-A, he slashed a more-encouraging .279/.322/.444. Whatever development has occurred, it seems to have satisfied the Phillies, who will promote the catcher today according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.
Alfaro’s future looks brighter than it did five months ago, but he’s still far from a slam-dunk prospect. Though his strikeout and walk numbers are trending in the right directions, they’re still cause for concern. And though he’s only 23, Alfaro has been playing professionally since 2010, so he may not have a ton of improving left to do.
While he’s improved at the plate, Alfaro’s biggest strides seem to have taken place behind it. According to Baseball Prospectus’ pitch-framing data, Alfaro’s framing was nearly a run worse than average last year, but has been over 14 runs better than average this season. Clay Davenport’s data tell a similar tale: +1 last season and +12 this year.
KATOH’s very low on Alfaro. My system pegs him for 1.8 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 2.4 WAR by KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings. KATOH essentially sees him as a backup catcher. To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Alfaro’s first six seasons in the major leagues.
To put some faces to Alfaro’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the toolsy catcher. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Alfaro’s performance this year and every Double-A season since 1991 in which a catcher recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.
Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.
|Rank||Name||Mah Dist||KATOH+ Proj. WAR||Actual WAR|
As a strikeout-prone hitter who was more good than great at Double-A, Alfaro seemingly still has some ground to cover before he’s ready to make an impact in the big leagues. Steamer sees Alfaro as just a .231/.273/.366 hitter right now, which works out to a 68 wRC+. That’s hard to swallow, even from a good defensive catcher. It’s always difficult to gauge how a hitter will handle the jump from Double-A to the bigs, and it’s especially difficult when said hitter’s performance has yet to live up to his scouting reports. But frankly, Steamer’s “right now” projection of 68 wRC+ feels about right. Alfaro has done little to prove he’s up to the task of facing big-league pitching, so the onus is on him now to parlay his tools into on-field performance. We’ll see if — and how quickly — he does so.