Ask BA: Where Did Anthony Alford Go?

When Mariano Rivera calls it a career, the Yankees still will need someone to save games. Next year David Robertson will likely jog in from the bullpen when the ninth inning arrives next year.

Right now, I know how Robertson will feel. With Jim Callis headed elsewhere, I’m taking over as your weekly answer man for Ask BA. I don’t have Callis’ cutter, but with 11 years at Baseball America and many baseball games and scouts’ calls under my belt, I hope I can get three outs every Monday and hopefully entertain you all along the way. With that in mind, and with University of Georgia still represented (like Jim, I’m a UGA grad who still misses Athens, Ga.), on to the questions.

As always, if you have questions, please send them to askba@baseballamerica.com with a note of where you live along with your name.

Anthony Alford has disappeared. Where did he go?

David MacPhee
Vernon, British Columbia

When the Blue Jays signed Alford for $750,000 in 2012 they did so with the agreement that he could play college football. He led an awful Southern Miss team in total offense as a freshman quarterback last year. He’s since transferred to Mississippi where he will have to sit out this year as a redshirt thanks to the transfer rules, but he is attending classes and practicing with the football team.

Because of the time commitment of football, Alford’s baseball career up to now has been limited to a series of very brief snippets of on-field action. He played five games in the Gulf Coast League before reporting back to school in 2012 and six more in the GCL this year before heading to Ole Miss.

With such limited exposure to pro ball, it’s hard to make any sort of assessment of Alford’s chances to be a big leaguer. He’s one of the best athletes in the minors and is a plus defender in center field. But as long as his pro baseball experience consists of a few weeks in the summer around classes and football, it’s going to be very hard for him to develop into a polished hitter.

The Blue Jays, like any team that works out a two-sport deal that allows the player to leave for a college sport, hope that at some point Alford will focus full-time on baseball. This transfer to Ole Miss is a setback for the Blue Jays however, as it raises the possibility that Alford will spend five years as a college football player because of his redshirt year.

The track record of baseball success for players who split time between pro baseball and college football is not a good one. Actually it’s terrible. Baseball is hard enough to succeed at if you work on it year-round. Because of the demands of the college football season, players splitting their time between the two sports often fall further and further behind at the plate.

Drew Henson, Russell Wilson, Ricky Williams, Dennis Dixon and Terrell Buckley are a number of examples of players who received good money to give baseball a try, but ended up taking the “easier” path to the NFL.

The difficulty of life in the minors is not to be ignored. Often these players are struggling in sparsely attended stadiums to catch up to baseball players who have more at-bats under their belts because they play year-round. At the same time, these same players are on national TV having success on the college football field. Before long, the lure of football success wins out over baseball struggles.

It’s worth noting that the biggest two-sport football/baseball success stories are players who played both sports in college first. Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Brian Jordan all managed to succeed at both, in part because it was easier to get at-bats as a college baseball player than it is as a pro baseball player who is also a college football star.

Rockies outfielder Kyle Parker, currently playing at Double-A Tulsa, followed a similar track, playing three years at Clemson as an outfielder and four years as a quarterback. He signed with the Rockies with the provision that he would play one more year of college football, but unlike Alford, Wilson or others, his football career had a definitive end date, which meant he missed much less time because of his second sport.

Alford has the tools to become a solid baseball prospect, but unless he focuses more time on baseball, it’s hard to see how it will ever be more than a hobby.

My worst fear as a Padres fan is that Austin Hedges is the second coming of Ben Davis.  Please tell me that he’ll be better than that.

Red Legaspi
San Diego, CA

If you’re a Padres’ fan the fear of a repeat of the Ben Davis saga is an understandable phobia. Davis’ inability to hit for average ended up squelching what was supposed to be a very lengthy career for the second overall pick in the 1995 draft. A switch-hitter with a great arm and power potential, Davis made four Baseball America Top 100 Prospect lists, including ranking 10th in his first year as a pro.

In hindsight, Davis is looked at as a prime example of the risks of drafting a high school catcher at a time when high school catchers were among the riskiest of first round picks. Here’s what our Padres Top 10 scouting report said about Davis when he was the No. 3 prospect in the system heading into the 1998 season.

Strengths: Davis has the tools of an all-star catcher. His arm is close to an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has done a good job quickening his release and improving his game-calling. He takes charge and is quick to make adjustments.

Weaknesses: His offense isn’t as good as his defense, but he showed definite improvement. He still gets anxious at times and has trouble with offspeed stuff. He’s a switch-hitter with power who should hit .260-.280 in the big leagues. He’s an average runner.

Davis’ arm was as advertised. In fact, he tried to make it back to the big leagues as a pitcher after his catching career was over. The projection as far as his bat ended up being too optimistic as he was a career .237 major league hitter, and his contact problems did not allow his raw power to ever turn into significant game power. Davis called a pretty quick end to his career once he was sent back to the minors. He now works as an on-air analyst for CSN Philadelphia.

So why is Hedges likely to end up with a better career than Davis? For one, Hedges’ game calling and his defensive work behind the plate are more advanced than Davis’ was at the same point in his career, even if Davis’ arm might have been a little stronger. Davis’ footwork was never a strength in part because of his size (he’s 6-foot-4) while Hedges movement behind the plate is among the best in the minors.

But more importantly, Hedges’ bat should be better than Davis’. Hedges has not had a breakout season at the plate–a .270/.343/.425 season at high Class A Lake Elsinore is solid but unspectacular considering the hitting environments of the California League. But his swing is short. Catchers’ bats are often slower to develop than other position players—see Yadier Molina as an example—so scouts see Hedges as a potential solid all-around catcher.

With Travis D’Arnaud and Mike Zunino up in the big leagues, Hedges moves to the top of the list as far as minor league catching prospects. He’s not a Top 10 prospect in the Xander Bogaerts/Byron Buxton realm, but Hedges has a very good chance to be a solid everyday catcher.

Minors | #Anthony Alford #Ask BA #Austin Hedges #Ben Davis #San Diego Padres #Toronto Blue Jays

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