Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mackanin: Alfaro has potential to be 'monster'

Jorge Alfaro showed why scouts love him Thursday afternoon at Spectrum Field.
Alfaro ripped a ball into the wind, doubling off the right-center-field wall in the fourth inning of a 6-0 victory over the University of Tampa, the Phillies' final day before they play the Yankees in Friday's Grapefruit League opener in Tampa, Fla.. He also threw out a basestealer by several feet in the fourth.
"I'm trying to get better," Alfaro said.
Alfaro is the No. 3 catching prospect in baseball and the No. 72 prospect overall, according to MLBPipeline.com. He is expected to open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies have no need to rush him. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp ranked eighth out of 19 qualified catchers with a .752 OPS last season. His .448 slugging percentage ranked fourth.
Alfaro needs the work, anyway. He appeared in four games with the Phillies in September, going 2-for-16 with one walk and eight strikeouts. He hit .285 with 15 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .783 OPS in 97 games with Double-A Reading in 2016.
The consensus seemed to be this: tons of talent, scary power, cannon arm, but raw.
"He's got tremendous power potential," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He kind of has a tendency to inside-out the ball, and if he can learn how to get the head out, he's going to be a monster."
Defensively, Mackanin needs to see improvement, too.
"All around," Mackanin said. "He's looked good so far and he's showing noticeable improvement. One thing he's got going for him is his arm strength. He doesn't have to worry about being extremely quick with his release, his transfer, because he makes up for it with his arm."
Mackanin said Alfaro's throw to second base was timed at 1.95 seconds. He said it could be 1.8 seconds with a quicker release.
Alfaro only had one opportunity to throw out a basestealer in September, but he caught him. Statcast™ measured the throw at 89.4 mph, although it must be noted that the ball had bounced away from him and he threw from a standing position.
One throw from a standing position makes Alfaro's arm impossible to compare to other catchers. But 66 catchers last season had at least 10 throws on stolen -base attempts. Christian Bethancourt averaged 86.7 mph to lead the list. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez ranked second at 86.4 mph.
"I've been working on blocking, receiving, calling games and all of that," Alfaro said. "You never stop learning. That's the way I think."
Notes from Thursday's exhibition
•  Center fielder Roman Quinn singled, stole second and scored in the first and homered in the third.
•  Right fielder Dylan Cozens crushed a two-run home run to center field in the fifth inning. He had four RBIs.
•  Shortstop J.P. Crawford doubled, walked and scored. He also turned two double plays with second baseman Scott Kingery.

Panda among quartet of Sox with happy return to action

It seemed like everywhere you looked, someone from the Red Sox was making a comeback from a prolonged absence on Thursday.
Those stories, and Mitch Moreland's three-run homer in his first game action with Boston, are what made the 9-6 victory over Northeastern in the opening of spring exhibition play most meaningful.
Considering what Pablo Sandoval (left shoulder labrum surgery), Blake Swihart (left ankle surgery), Sam Travis (torn ACL in left knee) and starting pitcher Brian Johnson (anxiety/depression) were coming back from, this was a special day.
"Especially the first day, things were a little bit of a challenge because of all the months I missed playing," said Sandoval. "I feel excited to be back on the field."
Sandoval played for the first time since last April 10 and smashed a double in his second at-bat, while handling all of his chances cleanly at third. He is hoping to win back the starting job he lost last Spring Training.
"Panda, it's been nearly a year since he's been in a game, and he handled three balls cleanly," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Good to see the swing he puts on a ball for a double down the right-field line. Regardless of who the opponent is, when you miss that much time and you come back, and in his case in particular, where he's put a lot of work, it's good to see it get off on a positive note."
With abandon, Sandoval belly-flopped into second on his double. He acknowledged later that feet-first would probably be a better approach considering the type of surgery he had.
"I'm not supposed to [dive], but you don't think about it," Sandoval said. "That's the way I play."
Swihart's 2016 season ended on June 4 when he jammed his left ankle into the base of the side wall in left field at Fenway Park. But there he was against Northeastern, stroking a single up the middle in his first at-bat and hauling all the way home from first to score on a double by Steve Selsky.
"It feels good," said Swihart, who is in competition with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez in the catching derby. "That was my first time running around the bases again, and going first to home felt fine. Every first game, everybody's adrenaline should be going. I was excited. June 4 was a long time ago. I was ready to get out there."
So, too, was Travis, who had a monster Spring Training last year for the Red Sox, only to go down for the season on May 29 while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. In the bottom of the third, Travis, ranked No. 4 among Red Sox prospects, drilled one over the replica Green Monster at JetBlue Park for a three-run shot.
"It was great," Travis said. "Hit it pretty far foul, but the wind took it back so it worked out.
Then there is Johnson, who feels like his old self physically and mentally again. The No. 12-rated Red Sox prospect struck out three over a pair of hitless innings.
"A ton better," said Johnson. "Night and day. It doesn't even compare to [last year], to be honest."
"There were a number of positive things inside an exhibition game today," said Farrell.

Tigers get glimpse of prospect Jaye's potential in exhibition

 Myles Jaye wasn't at Spring Training with the Tigers last year. Detroit couldn't keep catcher Bryan Holaday, who was out of Minor League options, so it traded him to the Rangers and picked up Jaye in return.
Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Jaye started the Tigers' Spring Training schedule this year. With two frames in Thursday's 8-0 exhibition win over Florida Southern College, Jaye opened a spring slate that could end with the Tigers facing two more decisions like they had with Holaday.
Jaye split last year between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, posting a 5-12 record and a 3.95 ERA with 135 strikeouts over 161 2/3 innings. He ranks 16th on MLB Pipeline's latest list of Top 30 Tigers prospects, with the potential as a back-end starter.
The 25-year-old right-hander gave up a ground-ball single and a leadoff walk to go along with a strikeout in his two innings on Thursday, but he induced four groundouts and erased one of his runners with a pickoff.
"I think his crossfire [delivery] makes him sneaky on hitters," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he's probably got the ability to pitch up. I do like his slider when he throws it with a tight rotation. I don't think it looks very similar spinwise to his fastball. You still want to see big league hitters react to him, guys that have a little more experience."
Meanwhile, shortstop prospect Dixon Machado and corner outfielder Steven Moya -- like Holaday -- are out of options. Machado and Moya could be more blocked than Holaday was last spring. The Tigers let Holaday compete for the backup catching spot while working at third base and the outfield, then traded him near the end of camp when Texas needed an understudy for Robinson Chirinos.
Like they did with Holaday, expect the Tigers to wait until the end of camp to decide on Machado and Moya. Though general manager Al Avila said some teams have already put their out-of-options players on waivers to gauge interest, he wants to let camp play out.
Moya went 1-for-2 with two RBIs, while Machado added a hit in Thursday's exhibition.
One Major League scout following the Tigers said he suspects Moya would have a better chance at clearing waivers than Machado, given his positional limitations. If not, expect Avila to try to work out similar deals. The return could be important to building depth in the farm system.
"You always have the injury factor, so that might take care of a decision right there," Avila said last week.

For starters, D-backs roll past Grand Canyon

The D-backs checked the boxes in their exhibition game against Grand Canyon University on Wednesday, as 27 players saw game action and the team came out relatively unscathed on the injury front in its 9-1 victory.
Most starters made one plate appearance before departing.
"I think the guys were excited about it," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "They were playing energized, focused baseball and that's what I was most excited about."
Here are some other notes from Wednesday:
• Third baseman Jake Lamb drove in the first run of the game with a ground-rule double down the right-field line.
"I was just looking to shoot something over the shortstop and he threw a real slow slider/curveball and just hit it down the line," Lamb said. "I'll take it. You can practice all you want, but little things like guy on second -- get him over -- guy on third less than two outs, granted it's college competition, but these are real situations you can put yourself in."
• Outfielder Reymond Fuentes had to leave the game when he knocked knees with the GCU third baseman rounding third base. Lovullo said the injury did not appear serious.
• Speaking of injuries, catcher Chris Herrmann (bruised right foot) caught a live batting practice session while right-hander Matt Koch (right hamstring) threw a side session and reported no discomfort.