The Situation: With backup outfielder Darrell Ceciliani on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and starting center fielder Kevin Pillar suspended by the team, the Blue Jays have need of an outfielder for a few days. They’ll be using this as an opportunity to get their best outfield prospect’s feet wet in the majors.
The Background: Anthony Alford was taken by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Petal High School in Mississippi. He was expected to go higher, but signability concerns attached to his NCAA football commitment dropped him to Day 2. The Jays gave him $750,000 as part of a two-sport deal that also allowed him to play football at Southern Mississippi. He began focusing on baseball full time in 2015 and immediately broke out at the plate, smashing both A-ball levels to the tune of .298/.398/.421 and breaking onto top 100 lists. His 2016 return to Dunedin was marred by a concussion and leg injuries, but a healthy Alford has resumed mashing the baseball this season, posting an .866 OPS in 33 games in the Eastern League.
Scouting Report: The first thing you notice with Alford is the body. He looks more like a strong safety than a center fielder. Of course he has been both, but the SEC football athleticism has translated well to the diamond. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm, and can go get it in center. That’s a pretty good start if you are building an above-average major-league regular from scratch, but Alford has broken out at the plate this spring as well. A lot of this may be due to being healthy after an injury-plagued 2016, but the fact that he has handled to the jump to Double-A with aplomb is still noteworthy.
There’s some pre-swing waggle and a leg kick here, but Alford is strong enough and athletic enough to keep everything under control. He hits line drives with authority to all fields, and has an advanced approach at the plate considering he only focused exclusively on baseball in the last few seasons. He looks like he should hit for more power than he does. There isn’t a ton of lift in the swing, and his approach favors the big part of the park. I think he’s strong enough that double-digit home run power will come eventually, but it may take some time to show up. The rest of the profile though, that’s here now and should give him a decent shot to jump right into the deep end of the pool in Toronto despite fewer than 150 plate appearances above A-ball.
Immediate Big League Future: This is likely just a weekend trip up north for Alford, but his strong early 2017 campaign has put him on the map for a call-up if and when there is a longer-term need. And if this does end up a lost season for the Blue Jays, they might want to see what Alford can do at the major-league level sooner rather than later—although I’d imagine sooner would still be later than the Super 2 safe harbor date. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact: Alford has more than held his own this year, slashing .325/.411/.455 with three homers and nine stolen bases in 141 plate appearances. He also has shown great discipline at the plate, drawing walk rates well over 10 percent at every minor-league stop, while also striking out in only 17 percent of plate appearances this season at Double-A New Hampshire.
At his peak, Alford has the potential to be an 10-homer type, but his real calling card will be his wheels. Alford has always had success on the basepaths when healthy, and could be a threat to swipe 30-plus bags, if he hits enough to get on base. The question becomes: how long will Alford be up? Even though he's been in the Blue Jays' system since 2012, he still has less than 1,200 minor-league plate appearances, and only 141 above High-A. It's hard to imagine this call-up isn't primarily to just have an extra functional body on the roster. Having said that, if you're in a deep, deep re-draft league, I might scoop Alford up on the outside chance that he sticks for longer than anticipated, especially with stolen bases at such a premium. Long term, he's still likely a top-50 dynasty prospect, but he might just need a little more time to develop. —Mark Barry