The Situation: The Phillies dealt Carlos Ruiz, one of the last vestiges of the 2008 World Series champions, to the Dodgers. They did get erstwhile Clayton Kershaw personal catcher A.J. Ellis back in the deal, but he’s not expected to report until Saturday or Sunday. Therefore, Jorge Alfaro gets at least a day in the majors—and wins the lifetime healthcare coverage lottery—by virtue of being the only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
Background: Alfaro was signed by the Texas Rangers out of Colombia in the 2009-10 international signing period for $1.3 million, a record for a Colombian-born player. Quickly nicknamed “The Legend” by then-BP prospect maven and current Chicago Cubs scout Jason Parks, Alfaro started turning heads with his raw tools on backfields and at the lowest levels of the minors. We ranked him as the 101st best prospect in baseball as an 18-year-old in 2012. He’s made every BP 101 since, ranking at 76th in 2013, 41st in 2014, 31st in 2015, and 70th in 2016, after being traded to the Phillies at the 2015 deadline as part of the Cole Hamels deal. In our most recent list at the 2016 midseason point, Alfaro ranked 46th, so his streak seems likely to continue into 2017.
Scouting: Going back as far as his signing, every Alfaro scouting report worth its salt will mention two standout raw tools: arm and power. The arm is a no-doubt elite weapon from behind the plate, a true 80 tool, one of the best in baseball. The power, well, that’s gotten a bit more complicated as he’s moved up the ladder. He’ll still flash 70 raw or even higher for you, but it’s never really shown up as a plus-plus tool in games. For example, he’s only hit 13 home runs in 403 plate appearances in 2016, despite playing half his games in slugging paradise Reading, where lesser prospects Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins are both making runs at 40 dingers.
Alfaro is reasonably short to the ball with a hard, classically pretty swing from an open stance. He has excellent bat speed and can make quality contact at times. He does still have remnants of a hitch early in his swing that has quieted down over the years. Overall, his raw hitting talent grades out quite well, but his lack of pitch recognition and overaggressive approach have consistently limited his offensive game. At some point, you simply have to throw question marks into the overall offensive projection. He’s still just 23, but his bat is also still out in front of every good breaking ball, and those breaking balls are a heck of a lot better in the National League than the Eastern League. The adjustments haven’t come yet, and might never, but there’s also All-Star level offensive possibilities here if they do.
Despite the elite arm, serious questions above Alfaro’s overall defensive game have followed him all the way up the ladder. The rest of his catching skills have lagged behind his throwing, and suggestions have been made over the years that his ultimate future was as a right fielder or third baseman. Since joining the Phillies system, he’s made notable progress from a scouting perspective on his receiving and framing, and there has been somewhat less suggestion based on 2016 looks that he’ll ultimately need to swing out from behind the plate than in past years. We do have framing estimates for the high-minors now, though they aren’t as reliable as the MLB product, and Alfaro is rated very well by our metrics this year. Overall, he’s been 16.5 runs above-average in 2016 by FRAA, which estimates him as the best defensive catcher in Double-A.
Alfaro is unusually athletic for a catcher, which is why his potential alternative positions are a bit further up the defensive spectrum than they would be for most catchers. He’s an extremely well-built dude with great agility. Despite a bad ankle injury that cost him much of the 2015 season, he remains a 45 or 50 runner, which is at the very top of “good runner for a catcher” territory.
Immediate Future: Alfaro may only be up for an emergency stint now, but he should be back in September after Double-A Reading concludes its playoff run. Philadelphia has quality depth in catching that gives Alfaro strong short-to-medium-term competition—Cameron Rupp has been a 2.2 WARP player in a part-time role this year, and Andrew Knapp at Triple-A is a real prospect too—but Alfaro has a shot to claim a full-time major league role sometime in the 2017 season. —Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Take: While fellow-catcher Gary Sanchez has been taking the fantasy world by storm, Alfaro is another backstop who could have high-end fantasy impact. The power isn’t 100 percent usable at this point; however, in a beneficial ballpark like Citizens Bank, he could become a threat to reach the 20-homer plateau over the course of an entire season in his prime. Detractors will point to the low walk rate and the questionable plate discipline—which is worrisome and shouldn’t be glossed over—but in a fantasy landscape that has Cameron Rupp and Russell Martin as year-to-date top-10 catchers, a guy with offensive potential like Alfaro is worth celebrating.
Of course, fantasy owners would be wise to avoid investing heavily right now. He’s not projected to stick in the majors, as veteran A.J. Ellis will join the Phillies in the near future. A September call-up could be in his future, but even then, it’s difficult to see the 23-year-old catcher getting everyday starts.
Dynasty owners have long known about Alfaro, which means he’s likely unavailable. This brief promotion shouldn’t change his long-term value too much, as he wasn’t really “blocked” in any legitimate sense. Owners in yearly re-draft leagues who are searching for a late-season push for a championship should look elsewhere, though. It doesn’t seem he’ll be here for too long. —J.P. Breen
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