After failing to collect a hit in his first 14 trips to the plate this season Anthony Alford’s role with the Pittsburgh Pirates could be up in the air
The Pittsburgh Pirates opened the season with Anthony Alford as their starting center fielder. However, he’s off to an Antarctic-cold start. He has no hits in his first 6 games and 14 plate appearances. Sure, players get slow starts, but he has no hits and has struck out in just over half of all his trips to the plate. So how much more of a leash will the Pirates give Alford?
Alford was originally one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospects. He ranked as high as the 25th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and was considered a consensus top 100 guy up until 2018. Alford hit well at Double-A where he had a .310/.406/.429 line with a .371 wOBA in 289 plate appearances. However, when he was promoted to Triple-A, he has hit just .250/.325/.374 with a .307 wOBA.
The center fielder has yet to be given a long look in the Major Leagues as the most plate appearances he’s had in a single season is 30. He’s still just 26-years-old, so he’s fairly young. With the Pirates current situation, they don’t have much to lose giving Alford a longer look. He also has zero options remaining so if they wanted to try and send him to the minors, he’d have to be exposed to waivers first.
However, it’s not as if Alford is their only center field option. Offseason acquisition Dustin Fowler was a former notable prospect himself. The last time he played professionally was in 2019 when he hit .277/.333/.477 with 25 home runs, a dozen stolen bases, and .341 wOBA.
However, he had a wRC+ of just 93 as he played in the ever-so hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. He’s also not gotten off to the hottest of starts. He only has 3 hits and a 1:6 BB:K ratio in his first 16 plate appearances.
Another alternative the Pittsburgh Pirates could turn to that’s already on the major league roster is giving utility man Phillip Evans more playing time in left field and push Bryan Reynolds to center field. Evans has gotten off to a blazing hot start yet again, picking up where he left off in 2020. So far, he has 7 hits in his first 21 trips to the plate. That also includes 2 home runs and a double. He’s also seen his batted ball rates get better with a 92.7 MPH exit velo and 52.9% hard hit rate. Overall, it’s a very small sample size, but if he can show this hot start isn’t a complete fluke, he could be a very underrated, potentially long term member of the Pirates organization.
In the minors, the organization’s most ready center field prospect is Jared Oliva. Oliva put up pretty solid numbers at Double-A in 2019, batting .277/.352/.398 with a .343 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Though he only had a .121 isolated slugging percentage, he drew walks at a solid 8.3% rate while keeping strikeouts to just a 20.5% rate. He also showed a good ability to run the bases as he swiped 36 bases in 46 attempts. Though his arm is a bit on the weaker side, he’s considered an average fielder out in center.
If the minor league season started on time, then Oliva may be the best option the Pittsburgh Pirates have. But the minor league season won’t start until May. Oliva is currently at the alternative site. Had the season started in early April, he would have been at Triple-A and if he got off to a hot start, may be the team’s starting center fielder before the end of the month.
With Alford having no minor league options remaining and the Pirates being able to run him out in center without much risk, they’ll likely give him a bit of a leash. However, I don’t see him lasting past mid-May if he can’t get out of this funk. The team has plenty of other options to turn to if he can’t produce. They’ll likely give Fowler a shot before Oliva as he also has no minor league options remaining.