Blue Jays farm report: Alford playing catchup after missing time

Anthony Alford of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Prior to suffering the right hamstring strain that cut short his spring training and delayed the start of his 2018 season, Anthony Alford accomplished a great deal at big-league camp with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 23-year-old centre-fielder turned plenty of heads by going 10-for-31 with three doubles, two triples and a homer over 13 Grapefruit League games, and while spring stats come covered in caveats, the raw ability was impossible to ignore.

What did he take from his camp?

“I feel more comfortable playing the corners on defence, more confident offensively and on the base paths, being more aggressive, whether it’s going first to third, turning a double into a triple or a single into a double, just pulling the trigger when it’s an opportunity me to steal a base,” Alford says during a recent interview. “I just feel way more comfortable because I know my swing more, I know my body, the way it the way it works and the way it’s supposed to work.”

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A week into his return to triple-A Buffalo, following six rehab games with advanced-A Dunedin, Alford hasn’t quite found his spring form just yet. Through five games heading into Saturday’s action (all stats are through Friday’s games), he was 5-for-22 with an RBI and two walks.

Playing catchup after missing time in the spring can be difficult for players, especially hitters who rely on feel, but Alford is used to making up for lost time while playing both baseball and college football. He committed to baseball for good in 2015, and has made significant and rapid progress since, slowed only by a knee injury, a concussion and a broken hamate bone he suffered during his first touch of the big-leagues last year.

The most important element for Alford has been simply getting reps, helping him lock down a switch he made to a leg kick during his first full season of baseball.

“It was more of a timing thing for me,” explains Alford. “When I was doing baseball part-time, it was put my toe down and go. But my body was leaking forward and I was just missing pitches. As you go up, you can’t really miss those pitches that you get to hit, guys have better stuff to put you away with, so I just tried to find a way to get my body in a strong, balanced position to where I can consistently make harder contact.”

The change really took hold in 2016, when Alford was recovering from a knee injury and he worked with GCL hitting coach Paul Elliott. The two watched video of several players who leg kick, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista among them.

“While I was rehabbing and playing in some games, everything was just inconsistent and I said, ‘Man, forget it, I ain’t got nothing to lose, I’m sucking right now. I’m not really hitting good right now, so why not try something new?’” says Alford. “(Watching video) wasn’t to just swing like them, it was more just to see how they were loading on that backside. When I was loading, my weight was getting out on the outside of my back foot, but it was pretty much how to load in a strong position whenever you’re leg kicking.”

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Over time, it’s become second nature to him, and Alford is now knocking on the big-league door, waiting for opportunity in the crowded Blue Jays outfield.

And as much he’s trying to secure the physical end of the game, he’s working to do the same on the mental side, too.

“Mainly it’s just keeping the positive mindset because at the end of the day, no matter how how far along I’ve come playing defence, or baserunning, if my mindset isn’t right then it’s not going to matter,” says Alford. “I’ve got to be in the right state of mind to be successful and if I’m not in the right state of mind, I feel like I don’t really give myself a chance. So it’s really just keeping that mindset of going out there, every day, trying to be the best competitor I can be.”

Notes for elsewhere around the system:

  • Top pitching prospect Nate Pearson is nearing activation at single-A Dunedin after a suffering an oblique strain while completing a routine pitcher’s fielding practice drill toward the end of spring training. The right-hander has been rebuilding at extended spring and may be as little as one more outing away from his season debut.
  • Jake Petricka has made three appearances for the Bisons since activation from the DL and the right-handed reliever is someone to keep an eye on as a potential candidate for the bullpen at some point this season. The 29-year-old struggled through an injury-marred 2017 with the White Sox that ended in elbow surgery but in 2014 and ’15 was a reliable set-up piece in Chicago.
  • Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey has at least one hit in each of the six games he’s played with Buffalo since coming off the disabled list with a wrist issue, going 4-for-4 stealing as well.
  • Shortstop Richard Urena, who suffered an intercostal strain late in the spring, is on rehab at single-A Dunedin as builds up toward a return to Buffalo.
  • Sean Reid-Foley struck out six of the first seven batters he faced and eight overall as he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning of a 4-0 double-A New Hampshire win over Trenton on Friday. Through four starts, the 22-year-old right-hander has allowed only three earned runs with 21 strikeouts in 23.1 innings.
  • Outfielder Ryan Noda is off to an odd statistical start at low-A Lansing, rocking an on-base percentage of .487, which is more than 250 points above his batting average of .235. An astonishing 30 per cent walk rate – 24 in 78 plate appearances – is responsible for that. In 66 games at rookie-ball Bluefield last year, his OBP was .507 as he walked 59 times against 60 strikeouts, although he batted .364 there, too.

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