Outfielder Anthony Alford may get another chance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2022, but how many more times will the team try him in regular playing time?
The Pittsburgh Pirates will enter Spring Training with Anthony Alford potentially having an inside track on an outfield role again. This is the same story last offseason with Alford having an upper hand on a starting outfield spot. So just how many more times are the Pirates going to try Alford?
The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Alford off waivers in 2020. Formerly a high-end talent in the Toronto Blue Jay farm system, underperformance in the upper levels of the minor leagues, as well as constant injury issues limited his chances in the majors. Alford was eventually designated for assignment and his contract was selected off waivers by the Pirates.
Alford only appeared in 5 games and collected 13 plate appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, but his 3 hits, one of which was a home run, gave him a chance to return in 2021 as a starting outfielder. He would have played more had it not been for a shoulder injury that kept him out the tail-end of the season.
After a solid Spring Training the speedy outfielder won the job over Dustin Fowler and Jared Oliva. But after collecting just 2 hits in his first 29 plate appearances of the season, Alford was designated for assignment once again. He went unclaimed and went to Triple-A.
Alford kept his chances with the Pirates alive at Indianapolis. In 226 plate appearances, he hit .307/.420/.593 with a .434 wOBA, and 168 wRC+. Alford had blasted off 14 times, which put him on a pace of 37 home runs in a full season’s worth of playing time. When the Pirates called Alford back to the Majors in early August, he continued to hit. Alford batted .266/.328/.477, overall having a .341 wOBA, and 114 wRC+.
Alford’s performance at Triple-A and the Majors gave him another shot with the Pirates, and that’s how we ended up here, with the former prospect getting yet another opportunity. But this is likely his last shot with the Pirates. There were still plenty of red flags to Alford between Triple-A and the Majors last year.
Alford had an insanely high .454 batting average on balls in play with a 34.5% strikeout rate. No way does Alford keep up a wRC+ approaching 170 when he’s striking out as often as Mason Martin. Nor does he keep up a .454 BAbip. High strikeouts and high BAbip plagued Alford down the stretch in 2021. He still struck out at a 35.3% pace with a .387 mark.
Plus, now, the Pirates have outfielders approaching the Majors. With Matt Fraizer, Travis Swaggerty, and Canaan Smith-Njigba approaching the Majors, Alford is currently just serving as a placeholder until they are ready. This Indianapolis outfield trio isn’t the only near-MLB-ready outfield capable prospects in the Pirate organization. Hoy Park, Tucupita Marcano, and now Ji-Hwan Bae can play the grass.
But why does Alford keep getting chances?
His DFA was probably the last planned chance the Pirates were willing to give Alford. But his performance at Triple-A demanded another look. Then after ending the season on a hot streak, Alford’s performance again earned him another shot.
It’s also worth mentioning that Alford may also be getting another shot because of his raw power ability. Currently, the Pirate Major League roster doesn’t have a ton of pop. Bryan Reynolds and Yoshi Tsutsugo bring some pop, and Ke’Bryan Hayes showed the raw power last season, so it’s a low-risk option for the Pirates to try and find more power. He did have a healthy 42.7% hard hit rate and 89 MPH exit velo when he did make contact in 2021.
It’s very likely that if Alford didn’t do as good as he did at Triple-A, he wouldn’t have gotten re-added to the 40-man roster and brought back for another chance. But they need to make this his last opportunity. He’s been given plenty and if he can’t capitalize after what he did last year, the Pirates have more than enough players who can take his place who haven’t gotten nearly as many chances to prove themself.