Jorge Alfaro has always been the diamond in the rough, go big or go home prospect. He would either flop in the high minors due to a lack of plate discipline and overall approach, or he’d terrorize pitching in said upper minors and continue to do so after reaching the majors.
2017 proved to be a roller coaster ride for Alfaro with him eventually coming out on top.
Jorge started the season in major league camp with long shot odds at making the Opening Day roster due to the presence of Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp. After just five Spring Training games, the Phillies optioned Alfaro to triple-A Lehigh Valley where he’d play for most of the season.
Everyone wanted to see one thing out of Alfaro this season during his time with the IronPigs: an improved approach at the plate. Instead, triple-A pitching got the best of Alfaro after the 24-year-old Colombian got out to a hot start. From April 7 to May 11, Alfaro hit .333/.364/.495 with four doubles, two triples and three home runs even while striking out 32 times and walking just twice. Extend the dateline to May 31 and Alfaro still walked just three times in the first two months of the season in comparison to 54 strikeouts. Some improvement needed to be done regardless of the slash line.
It was as summer rolled around that Alfaro began to struggle at the plate. From June 1 until the time he was recalled by the Phillies on August 3, Alfaro slashed .190/.267/.304 while going for just six doubles and four home runs. Those numbers simply did not represent what Alfaro truly was at the plate. His career minor league average sits right around .260, even after hitting .241 this season with the IronPigs. His triple-A SLG finished at .358, second-worst only to the .291 mark he put up as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2010.
The only improvement we saw with Alfaro was the one everyone had hoped to see: plate discipline. Alfaro walked 13 times in his last two months with Lehigh Valley as compared to walking three times in his first two months. The issue was that the improved plate discipline, albeit still below average, did not continue to result in hits, specifically extra-base hits. So what better way to snap out of a two-month long slump than by being promoted to the MLB?
The reason Alfaro was called up was not because of his improved plate discipline or that the Phillies thought a major league strike zone would help him get in a groove. He was promoted simply because Andrew Knapp went down with a wrist injury, leaving Cameron Rupp as the only catcher on the active roster. Alfaro’s services, however incomplete they may have been, were needed on the Phillies.
Alfaro’s 2017 hitting stats (29 games):
Standard: 114 PA, .318/.360/.514, 6 2B, 5 HR, 3 BB, 31 K, 0.6 fWAR
Advanced: 2.6% BB%, 28.9% K%, .420 BABIP, .369 wOBA, 127 wRC+
Alfaro made his 2017 Phillies debut on August 5 at Coors Field in Colorado. He would not play again until August 11 at home against the Mets as former skipper Pete Mackanin was riding with Rupp. It was shortly thereafter that Alfaro began earning increased playing time.
Through August 23, Alfaro carried a nine-game hit streak - ten-game counting his final appearance of 2016 - in which he hit .324/.324/.432 and tallied his first career major league double and home run. You’ll notice that his batting average and on-base percentage were the same through those first nine games, and that is because Alfaro failed to draw a walk - or be hit by a pitch - in those contests. It was not until Alfaro’s tenth game of 2017 that he drew his first walk, and it turns out he drew two that day. The only other free pass for Alfaro came in his second-to-last game of the season on September 29 against the Mets.
The extra-base hits and slugging percentage were a pleasant surprise. Alfaro came just two home runs shy of tying his triple-A total of seven, a feat that took him 84 games to accomplish in comparison to just 29 major league games. His doubles total of six just about halved his 13 with the IronPigs, and the SLG of .514, albeit in a relatively small sample size, was more than a 150-point improvement.
Alfaro is out of minor league options, therefore he must open the season on the Phillies’ 25-man active roster or else he would be out of the organization. Of course, he could be involved in a trade that lands a pitcher for the Phils, but my sense is that the front office won’t be looking to trade any of their young, newly-promoted assets to help bolster the rotation. With that said, Alfaro seems slated to be the Opening Day catcher for the Phillies as they begin a new chapter on their road to contention.