The suspension of center fielder Kevin Pillar for his use of a slur and an injury to Darrell Ceciliani—in his first game since he was called up—has resulted in the Blue Jays calling up their No. 2 prospect, one-time two-sport star Anthony Alford.
Alford, 22, is off to a terrific start at Double-A New Hampshire after struggling in the first half at high Class A Dunedin in 2016. This might be just a sneak peek for the Jays. They will want Alford to get regular at-bats, so he faces a likely return to Double-A once Pillar is reinstated. There is a chance, however, Toronto will give him some run while Ceciliani is on the disabled list.
The former Southern Mississippi quarterback and Ole Miss defensive back has athleticism to burn, but he didn’t get to show what he could do on the diamond consistently until he gave up football. Alford had just 94 at-bats in three pro seasons before focusing on baseball full-time. Once he did, he showed an ability to rapidly catch up to more experienced opponents. In 2015 he broke out on the diamond, hitting .298/.398/.421 with 27 steals and showing previously unseen plate discipline with 67 walks.
An injury slowed Alford’s progress in 2016. He hurt his right knee on Opening Day, then collided with a teammate chasing a fly ball in June and ended up concussed. Appropriately, he struggled to a .200/.277/.256 line in the first half but got healthy in July and August and posted an .829 OPS.
A healthy Alford possesses power, speed and strike-zone awareness and scouts envision a player with power-speed potential. His swing can get long at times, but the Blue Jays have worked with him to shorten it somewhat without losing power. He has fared well this season against both righthanders (.857 OPS) and left (.896). As a defender, Alford has speed and range to play center field but a below-average arm.
WHAT TO EXPECT
This is likely a short-term appearance for Alford unless the Blue Jays believe the at-bats are there for him to continue developing. Despite being drafted in 2012, Alford still has fewer than 1,000 career at-bats and would be best served by another full, healthy season in the minors.