It’s been a busy couple hours with regard to the Phillies catching situation. The big news, of course, is the departure of lifetime Phillie Carlos Ruiz, who caught seemingly every meaningful game of the last decade for the team. That alone would be enough to get us all worked up emotionally, and it was. But, not content to allow us to ruminate on the sadness of the loss of Chooch, the Phillies have seen fit to offer us vision into life beyond Ruiz.
If you're not ready to put Chooch in your rearview mirror quite yet--you'd have to be heartless to be ready for such a thing--you can continue to dwell by reading about the transaction or about the plethora of Ruiz memories. He was there for everything, and seemingly caught every notable pitch of the team's most recent run of success. So, please, don't let him go from your mind so soon.
But the future has no time for the past. Time keeps on ticking (ticking, ticking) into the future, and so do the Phillies with this report from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan:
Source: Jorge Alfaro is coming up for Phillies. One of key players in Cole Hamels trade return, Alfaro is a rocket-armed, big-power catcher.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 26, 2016
Alfaro, as you’ll recall, was one of the headlining prospects who the Phillies got in the trade that sent Cole Hamels (and Jake Diekman) to the Texas Rangers last summer. Even with Nick Williams and Jake Thompson also coming back, there were some (many?) who considered Alfaro to be the proverbial pick of the litter. He ranked as a top-100 prospect three years running according to Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com and, with elite raw power and a strong throwing arm, he made for as intriguing a catching prospect as they get.
He came to the Phillies injured, though and missed most of the second half of 2015 with an ankle injury. That caused his prospect ranking to take a bit of a hit this offseason and he dropped something like 40 spots on most every list out there. Alfaro has been healthy this season, though, and has done his best to prove the haters wrong. With Reading this season, he’s hit .279/.322/.444 with 13 home runs. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus has credited him with 14.1 framing runs and providing a positive contribution in controlling the running game.
Now, he’s not likely to remain with the major league team for very long this go-around. Until A.J. Ellis arrives from the Dodgers—if Clayton Kershaw allows him to at all—the Phillies need a catcher as protection in the event of an injury to Cameron Rupp. As the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, the Phillies could call up Alfaro without taking up a valuable 40-man spot for when they might need to squeeze players in to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason.
It would be nice if Alfaro got a pinch hit opportunity in the next couple days, or even a spot start at catcher, first base, or in an outfield corner, but I find it unlikely that will happen. This is a break glass in case of emergency situation here and the Phillies, for their part, will be loath to break said glass. He’s never played above AA, and the Phillies have long been of the habit of seeing their prospects at every level before exposing them to the major leagues.
Regardless, Alfaro is the future at catcher for the Phillies. Or maybe it’s Andrew Knapp, or Deivi Gruillon. Who’s to say for sure. But, if we’re assigning shares to the Phillies catching future, Alfaro certainly is in possession of the plurality of them at this point. Even if he doesn’t record a plate appearance or fractional defensive inning, his call-up provides yet another reminder that the future is nigh. For the next couple days, that future may simply be ripening in the sun along the dugout railing.