Projecting Anthony Alford

In something of a surprise move, the Blue Jays summoned top prospect Anthony Alford to the big leagues on Friday. The move is a surprise not because Alford lacks talent, but because he’s played a mere 33 games above A-ball, all of which came this season with the Jays’ Double-A affiliate. Alford has performed exceptionally well this season, slashing .325/.411/.455. But he was overmatched by low-minors pitching as recently as last season, when he struck out 29% of the time and could only muster a .236/.344/.378 batting line at High-A.

Alford cut his strikeout rate by over 12 percentage points (from 29% to 17%) this year while maintaining his robust walk totals and modest power. The result has been substantially better offensive numbers. This is an encouraging development, especially since Alford’s so much more than his offense. He’s a 70 runner per Eric Longenhagen, which makes him a no-doubt center fielder and a threat on the bases.

KATOH+, which incorporates his ranking on prospect lists, pegs him for 4.2 WAR over his first six major-league seasons, good for 106th among prospect-eligible players. The stats-only version forecasts 3.5. That’s not a great prospect, but a solidly good one. Then again, KATOH doesn’t know that Alford was a football player who didn’t fully commit to baseball until his age-20 season in 2015. He played just 25 combined baseball games from 2012 to -14, so he’s almost certainly behind on the development curve compared to the typical 22-year-old former high school draftee. So KATOH’s almost certainly too conservative on the toolsy center fielder.

To put some faces to Alford’s statistical profile, I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Alford’s High-A and Double-A numbers and every season by an outfielder since 1991. 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.

Anthony Alford’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Scott Hunter 2.31 4.4 0.0
2 Tony Tarasco 3.00 4.3 1.4
3 Coco Crisp 3.40 5.5 18.1
4 Roger Bernadina 3.46 3.0 2.5
5 Rex De La Nuez 3.83 2.7 0.0
6 Prentice Redman 3.95 3.2 0.0
7 Danny Bautista 3.95 3.1 2.2
8 Matt Lawton 4.29 3.5 10.9
9 Brandon Roberts 4.91 2.1 0.0
10 Michael Saunders 5.07 6.0 6.4

Alford’s call-up may only be temporary one necessitated by Kevin Pillar‘s suspension and Darrell Ceciliani’s injury. Furthermore, his track record prior to this year suggests he could benefit from more seasoning in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Nonetheless, it’s clear he’s come a long way in recent months. Toronto executive Gil Kim revealed as much in an interview with David Laurila on Friday. KATOH agrees: it recently pegged him as one of this year’s most improved hitting prospects. Eight months ago, Alford was just another toolsy, ex-multi-sport athlete with iffy numbers in A-ball. Now, he’s a promising 22-year-old whom the Blue Jays have started in the outfield two of the last three games.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Rollie's Mustachemember
6 years ago

I’m willing to bet Alford’s injuries depressed his stat line last season a bit and what we’re seeing so far in 2017 shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. He’s a tremendous athlete. If Pompey’s bat can at least be serviceable in the majors one day, the Jays’ corner outfield defense could go from one of the weakest in recent years to one of the strongest with him and Alford flanking Pillar.