Who is Jorge Alfaro?
I have to hold myself back from two years of inside jokes here because Jorge has accumulated nicknames of a quality like almost no other minor leaguer in recent memory. He's been called The Legend (stylized for twitter as #TheLegend, for those on Twitter). He's also been called El Oso, which is Spanish for “The Bear.”
Those are two pretty impressive nicknames for a twenty year old catcher from Colombia who's played about a weeks' worth of games above Low-A. But then again, Alfaro is a pretty impressive specimen. The 6'2'', 185 pounder is possessed of a number of above average tools. Those are his weak tools. He's an incredible thrower with great power. He's also faster than the average catcher (although probably not faster than the av-a-rage Oso) and hits for enough average to let his power play up.
In short, there's a reason all the prospect nerds broke out in cold sweats during the Garza negotiations; losing this guy would hurt.
Ok, so it turns out just having Garza hurts. Bad example.
Jorge Alfaro will succeed because of:
He's pretty good at just about everything.
I guess I should have put a spoiler alert in a few paragraphs up but there's not much Alfaro doesn't do on a baseball field. He hits; 258 batting average in Hickory (Low-A) this year- which would have been good for ninth among MLB catchers this year, for reference. He hits for power: 452 SLG, would have been seventh in MLB; and 16 homers, would have tied Buster Posey for seventh. And runs well; 16 stolen bases vs 3 caught stealing, which would have far and away been number one in the majors. His arm is probably his best tool. I've seen scouts whose opinion I trust call it a 70 on the 20-80 scale.
Jorge Alfaro will fail because:
Catching is really, really hard. The phrase never really caught on but “There Is No Such Thing As A Catching Prospect” maybe should be a prospect truism. In fact, you may remember a time not too long ago when the Rangers 'had too many catching prospects'. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez were near to the same arrival time, with Christian Santana in the low-minors as a high-ceiling dream. Santana never played above A-ball; Ramirez put up a 711 OPS for the Royals this year. It was in AAA. Teagarden's total career WAR has yet to eclipse 1.0 (impressive, given that he was worth 1.0 bWAR in his first 53 games). Saltalamacchia was the only one to establish himself as a starting major league catcher, yet his peak season so far puts him at 1.7 bWAR. AJ Pierzynski, for reference, rates at 2.1 bWAR this season.
Young Catcher Stagnation Syndrome is a thing. Put simply, the position is very physically taxing, which impedes the offensive development of players for a variety of reasons. It's not universal, of course, or there would be no catchers capable of hitting. It's just more of a feast-or-famine type position.
And Afaro may be a feast-or-famine type player. While he could be a plus defensive catcher with a good average and good power, he could also be a middling first baseman with a mediocre average and middling power. The range of possible outcomes for Alfaro is one of the more staggering in the Rangers' system. Joey Gallo may be the only position player that could foreseeably peak higher, or trough lower.
A baseball player Jorge Alfaro should remind you of:
The dream is Salvador Perez, who is 4th in the AL among catchers in wRC+ this year, despite being ten points below his career average. Perez hits well and hits pretty hard but suffers from a lack of walks (4.1% career walk rate). To date, Alfaro has walked in 5.1% of hit plate appearances, although that ticked up to 7.8% this season. Kelly Shoppach might be a more reasonable expectation. While Shoppach was never a star, he did turn in a career with a 189 ISOP, 8 fWAR, and four seasons above a 733 OPS. That’s very, very good for a backup/platoon catcher.
A retired pro wrestler Jorge Alfaro should remind you of:
Ahmed Johnson. Man, remember that guy? Ahmed Johnson showed up in the WWF and it was awesome. Thing was, despite being really, really big and really, really strong, Johnson wasn't really good for anything other than throwing the other guy around. He never really learned how to wrestle. So instead of being one of the promotion's biggest stars, Johnson ended up out of wrestling three years after debuting.
That's my biggest fear for Alfaro; he doesn't fully address his flaws as a batter and never fulfills his promise. His physical gifts are sufficient to carry him through to the upper minors and possibly break him into MLB. The good news is Alfaro's development this season should assuage some of those fears. He caught more games, walked more and got on base more than he had in any other full season.
Well, maybe that's my second biggest fear for Alfaro. Getting hurt by the Nation of Domination might be number one. Those guys are bad news.
In one year, Alfaro will be:
An optimistic development path for Alfaro is one level per year. While he dipped his toes in High-A this year, a full season in Myrtle Beach is likely for him.
Of course, if you're doing the mental math that means in a good scenario Alfaro debuts in Arlington in 2017. This is a long-term stock is what I'm saying. And, hey, want to feel old? Alfaro will be 23 when the 2017 season starts.
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