Pittsburgh Pirates: Anthony Alford Should Be In Center Field To Start 2021

Sep 4, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Anthony Alford (6) hits a two run triple against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Anthony Alford (6) hits a two run triple against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Anthony Alford has never been given a long look in MLB, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have an opportunity to give the former prospect a chance.

For years, the Pittsburgh Pirates never had an issue with center field. From 2007 to 2019, the Bucs had a solid answer in center. From Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen, to Starling Marte, center was never an issue for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was until 2020 when they traded former all-star and longtime outfielder Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Longterm, the answer in center might be 2018 first-round pick, Travis Swaggerty. However, after the Marte trade, the Pittsburgh Pirates were left with an empty spot in center. They filled that void temporarily with Jarrod Dyson. But even though a light hitter, Dyson hit like a pitcher with a 6 OPS+, and no extra base hits in 55 plate appearances, the Pirates were able to get something out of him, trading him to the Chicago White Sox for international bonus pool money.

This leaves the Pittsburgh Pirates, once again, with a question mark in center. Last year, they called up prospect Jared Oliva late in the season. Olivaperformed well at High-A and Double-A, with a 124 and 123 wRC+ at each level. He runs well too with 33 and 36 stolen bases in 2018 and 2019, and is regarded as a positive defender. However, with no minor league season in 2020, Oliva did not get any work at Triple-A, and was moved from Double-A to MLB.

Getting Oliva a little bit of work at Triple-A would be beneficial for the outfielder. In the 16 plate appearances he had at the Major League level, he had just three hits, and struck out six times. He put up solid walk rates throughout the minors, but didn’t walk a single time in the Majors.

But Oliva isn’t the only internal option the Pittsburgh Pirates could go with. They claimed a former top prospect that I think they should look to instead. That being Anthony Alford.

The outfielder was formerly one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ best prospects. He was once rated as high as the 25th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2016, and was still appearing on prospect lists as recently as the 2018 season. Alford has done solid throughout the minors with a .265/.358/.393 line throughout 2098 plate appearances. Most of his production has come from Double-A where he hit .310/.406/.429 through 289 plate appearances. His numbers at Triple-A though haven’t been as pretty with a .250/.326/.374 in 749 plate appearances.

One of the main reasons the Pirates should give Alford a shot is his lack of experience in the Majors. The Jays never gave the former top 30 prospect a long MLB look. Before being claimed mid-way through the 2020 season, Alford only ever had 75 plate appearances with the Jays from 2017 to 2020. He collected 11 hits, three of which went for extras, in those plate appearances.

It’s possible that Alford never found his footing at Triple-A or the Major Leagues simply because he was that last man on the roster who was consistently brought up and down. He was optioned or recalled a total of 11 times from 2017 up until he was claimed off waivers by the Bucs.

Alford runs well, I mean really well. FanGraphs gives his speed a grade of 70, both currently and in the future. With a 29.7 feet/second sprint speed (translating to 20.25 MPH), Alford was the 6th fastest player in baseball in 2020. His ability to run has helped him track down balls deep in the outfield as well. FanGraphs gives his fielding a future 55. He doesn’t have a cannon with a 40 arm grade, but as a center fielder, it’s not awful.

Alford only has a 35 hit grade and 40 game power grade. However his raw power is a 60 grade tool. He showed that off in the limited time he was with the Pirates in 2020. He stepped to the plate 13 times with the Bucs before an unfortunate injury that occured when he was trying to rob a home run left him with a fractured right elbow in September. But he did hit .250/.308/.667 with a home run and a triple, putting that power on display.

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Alford has never been given a long look at the major league level. He’s been consistently optioned or injured in the last few seasons. He needs to be given a shot to prove himself, and the Pirates have the opportunity to let him do that. They have nothing to risk in giving him the chance to prove himself.