One thing that has become certain recently is the Philadelphia Phillies have a lot of prospects. Most of them are at chomping at the bit, nearing a chance to step up to major league plate appearances, including J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Roman Quinn, and Andrew Knapp, to name a few.
Quinn actually got an extended look last September, but will undoubtedly open the 2017 season with the stacked Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Williams and Crawford are bound to join him there, although Crawford is definitely very close to a call-up. Knapp will be viewed very closely in Spring Training, as will Alfaro. But above it all, Alfaro will be the one to keep two eyes on at all times.
The hype has been surrounding the 23-year-old for a long time. Coming up in the Texas Rangers organization, he seemed destined for stardom. To be a top catching prospect for as long as he has is a big deal, and he has gone to new heights in a short while with the Phillies. When Cole Hamels was shipped to the Rangers in 2015, Alfaro was thought of as the biggest piece acquired from that deal. He got hurt and was not able to play much at all in 2015. But in 2016 Alfaro showed off the big bat that people have always talked about.
He slugged .458 while batting .285 with 21 doubles and 15 home runs in 97 games for Double-A Reading. This was already after wowing everybody at Phillies camp in the 2016 edition of Spring Training with his power. It was just during batting practice, but Alfaro was cranking balls further than anyone had ever seen at the complex including Ryan Howard, who was no stranger to hitting deep long balls.
The offense was all well and good, but what about defense? That is, after all, a very important aspect of the catcher’s position. Alfaro worked on that last season too. His big arm carried him to throwing out 44 percent of base stealers. That is almost half — an elite mark for a catcher at any level. After struggling with passed balls in the past, he allowed only seven in 2016. The athleticism all came together, and right at the perfect time.
Knapp had a huge season in 2015, but fell back to earth in 2016. That is not to say that he can not be a good major league catcher, but Alfaro clearly has the higher ceiling at the moment. And while Knapp will have an early edge since he actually played last season at Triple-A, it would be foolish to completely think Alfaro can not wrestle the backup catcher’s position out of Spring Training. If he can do that, maybe he can even do well enough to take over for Cameron Rupp by season’s end.
Carlos Ruiz was a good starting catcher in Philadelphia for a long time. Alfaro has the chance to possibly be very good. This reason alone is why it is important to keep both eyes on him come Spring Training. He has arguably the best chance of any of the prospects to make the 25-man roster.
PJ Hyduke is a Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB covering the Phillies. Follow him on Twitter