With Anthony Alford having locked up a roster spot with the Pittsburgh Pirates, what can fans expect from the outfielder this season?
The Pittsburgh Pirates recently demoted minor league signee Brian Goodwin officially solidifying an Opening Day roster spot for Anthony Alford. With Alford getting regular plate appearances to start 2021, what can we reasonably expect him to do with the bat this season?
Alford has yet to really be given a shot at the major league level. He’s appeared in the last four MLB seasons, but has just 88 plate appearances in these seasons. The most times he’s stepped to the plate in one MLB season is 30 times, that being in 2019.
Alford was a former consensus top 60 prospect, even up to 2018. Alford played really well in the lower-level minor leagues and even better when he eventually got promoted to Double-A. Through 289 trips to the plate with the Toronto’s Double-A affiliate the center fielder put up a strong .310/.406/.429 line with a .371 wOBA.
Alford’s high OBP helped make his speed a weapon. He stole 18 bags in 21 attempts and is still one of the fastest players in the majors. Last season, he was clocked as the 13th fastest player in baseball. It was definitely helped by his strong 12.1% walk rate and an even better 15.6% strikeout rate.
However, when he was promoted to Triple-A, he struggled. He only hit .250/.326/.374 with a .307 wOBA. Alford saw his walk rate fall to 8.3% while his strikeout rate nearly doubled to 27.8%. He also started to steal more often, but at a far less efficient rate. He swiped 39 bags in 58 attempts, so his stolen base percentage went from above 85% to below 70%.
Alford’s continuous struggles at Triple-A slowly made his prospect status, which once had him ranked as high as the 25th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, dwindle. He had since been passed by the likes of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk for a starting spot, and Cavan Biggio who could fill in at all three outfield positions when he wasn’t at second base for the day. This all led to him being put on waivers in the 2020 season, and that’s when the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up the former center fielder.
Alford looked great in his first few plate appearances, collecting a triple, a home run and a single in 13 trips. With this performance it appeared the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to give him an extended look in center field last September. However, he fractured his elbow while making a catch which cut his season short.
Alford only has a 35-grade hit tool on FanGraphs, however, he does have power potential. He comes in with a raw power grade of 60, both currently and future projected. He’s also considered a guy with plus fielding potential with a 55-fielding grade, albeit with an arm that comes in with a 40-grade. Given his speed, he should be able to cover ground at a high rate.
Alford did not hit well at Triple-A, but I think he’ll produce something like Kevin Pillar has in the last handful of seasons given his power potential and very short appearance with the Bucs in 2020. Since 2018, Pillar has a .261/.293/.434 line with a .306 wOBA and 89 wRC+. Overall, that’s serviceable production if Alford can field centerfield to an average or better level. Although given his speed, it would be nice if he could reach base a little more often. A sub-.300 OBP really would limit his value as a speedy runner.
If Alford can show some of that power potential while being a plus fielder, he could solidify himself as a solid holdover until Travis Swaggerty is ready for the majors. Even after Swaggerty makes his debut, Alford could either be seen as a very solid fourth outfield option, or a potential trading chip to improve the team in other areas.