Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It's ok to be overly excited about Anthony Alford

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way right off the bat: I’m not a scout. I sometimes read stuff that scouts have written, and I often read stuff that non-scouts have written about what scouts have said, but I’m not a scout. I’ve only ever seen Anthony Alford bat a handful of times, and even if I watched him on a regular basis, I wouldn’t really know what I’m looking for because... and I’m not sure how to make this more clear... I’m not a scout.

Now that we’ve got that caveat and the hilarious baseball pun out of the way, it’s time to talk about Anthony Alford.

Every time I look at his stat line, I can’t help thinking there’s something really, really exciting about Alford. I love that, despite his youthful pining for a football career, he’s had so much success on the baseball field with so little professional experience.

But it’s the way he’s found success that has me most excited: his advanced, patient approach at the plate gives him a ton of offensive upside to go along with his speed and defensive ability. It’s all the more impressive considering 2015 was essentially his first season as a professional baseball player. It’s hard to look at what he did last year and not think “This guy could be really good, really soon.”

The real question, though, is “How good?” With that in mind, I went to Fangraphs to look for some comparables. I wanted to find players who, at a similar age and level, had similar profiles to what Alford did in his half season at Dunedin last year. The cutoffs: all players who, in their age-20 season, had at least 250 at bats at the High-A level with a walk rate of at least 10%, strikeout rate of below 20%, and wRC+ of at least 130. For the record, Alford had an 11.1 BB%, 19.2 K% and 153 wRC+ with Dunedin.

(At the risk of pumping expectations way, way higher than they should be, that’s almost identical to Josh Donaldson’s 2015. Just... you know... remember that this part is just an interesting tidbit that means nothing.)

After removing the 1B/DH-types (Eric Hosmer, Lars Anderson, Logan Morrison, among a few others) from the sample to isolate the players who have similar speed/defense profiles as Alford, we’re left with seven other players who fit these criteria over the last decade: Tyson Gillies, Christian Yelich, Joc Pederson, Byron Buxton, Delino Deshields Jr., Carlos Correa, and Daniel Robertson.

It’s an impressive list. Robertson is in similar position to Alford right now as a mid-Top 100 prospect, while Deshields already has some major league success under his belt. Gillies didn’t pan out at all, though his inability to stay healthy and on the field following his big High-A season presumably didn’t help.

Some more caveats may be necessary here. These are all arbitrary cut-off points, and a lot of players with similar profiles just missed in one category or another. It also doesn’t account for players who played at a higher level or were a month or two older than Alford (who was actually 21 for most of his stint in Dunedin) so that it didn’t technically qualify as their age-20 season.

But I’m not trying to make any kind of grand pronouncements about where Anthony Alford is headed. He strikes me as the kind of player who could fly up the prospect rankings into Top 10 range, but that entirely depends on his ability to replicate his 2015 season at a higher level. Every prospect’s career trajectory is riddled with questions and concerns and caveats. As fans, we often have unrealistically high expectations of our team’s prospects as we gloss over a lot of very real concerns. Alford should not be immune to those concerns, but when you look at the types of players who have had Alford-calibre seasons, it starts to feel like maybe those sky-high expectations aren’t so unrealistic.