Jorge Alfaro – The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Alfaro
Mike Napoli, AJ Pierzynski, Pudge Rodriguez, Geovany Soto, Yorvit Torrealba, Jarrod Saltlamacchia, Bengie Molina, Matt Treanor, and Taylor Teagarden.  That is the complete list of catchers since 2009 who have gotten more than 100 PAs for the Rangers.  As you can see there has been a lot of turnover at catcher and this year should be no different (Pierzynski is a FA).
In that group only one time has a catcher been worth more than 2.0 fWAR and that was during Napoli’s magical 2011 year.  Only 25% of the time has a catcher been above 100 wRC+ offensively.  Two of those seasons belong to Napoli and the other one, surprisingly, belongs to the 2013 iteration of Geovany Soto.  Usually it is okay to have uninspiring offensive production from a primarily defensive position however this year the Rangers needed all the production they could get from every position due to the lackluster offense.

Getting solid offensive production while also getting at least passable defense is a very rare thing.  It is one of the reasons I would trade Profar for Salvador Perez straight up and also one of the reasons why Brian McCann will become a rich man this offseason (5/90 is not out of the question).  However, developing a catcher like the one I just mentioned is about as rare as developing an ace pitcher.

The old adage is that catchers take a little longer to develop than other positions because there is so much involved in the position and the players who play that position take such a beating.  The players such as Salvador Perez, Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, and Buster Posey are the exceptions more than the rule.  They are solid to terrific defensive catchers who can bring a little to the table offensively (Perez is the weakest offensively of the bunch but he is also easily the youngest).

Now what does all of this really have to do with the Rangers?  Well the Rangers may have one of those rare unicorns (aka both good defensive and offensive catchers) in Jorge Alfaro.  Before I proceed let me caution you before you get too excited.  Catchers are highly volatile.  Remember Cesar King?  Remember Scott Heard?  Yeah neither do most Rangers fan.  They were, by all accounts, outstanding defensively but couldn’t hit their way out of a paper bag: Catching Casualties.

Who is Jorge Alfaro?  He was signed as a 16 year old out of Colombia for 1.3 million.  He is said to possess terrific athleticism with a terrific arm, very good speed for a catcher, and potentially light tower power.  He is oozing with potential but also has a very high probability of completely fading into obscurity.  He has struggled with some injuries since signing but did reach Hickory as a 19 year old last year and repeated the level this year with more success than he had previously.

So why should Ranger fans be excited about The Legend?  The table below will help answer that to an extent:

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This may not seem like much but remember this is a 20 year old player playing in a league where the average age of the players in the league was 21.7.  Simply put, every statistic moved in the way you would want it to move.   To put into perspective in 2012 Alfaro had the 67th highest OPS among qualifying hitters while in 2013 he was 27th.  That is a very big jump.  Yes he repeated a level but he did better in every facet of the game in his second swim through the league.

I had the privilege of seeing him play once in Hickory while I was out in North Carolina for work.  I agree 100% with pretty much every scouting report I have read on him in regards to his defense (shows potential but still very raw).  It does not take a scout to realize he has the tools to be a very good defensive catcher however he needs some work. His framing ability was a little soft but his glove mechanics were solid (a lot of framing is thumb positioning and he was trying very hard to lock that part of framing in).  I believe this will be remedied with added strength. He is an athlete so he was quick behind the plate however he seemed to lose focus on a couple balls in the dirt (again he is 20, very common and no cause for worry). His arm is borderline elite level.  He does get too upright on his release and it is a little long but once the ball is released it is very impressive.

I really cannot comment on his accuracy but he did put a seed right on the bag to catch a runner stealing who read the Hickory pitcher like a book.  When he took off I was thinking he had that base stolen but I underestimated Alfaro’s arm.  The next day the state of North Carolina officially declared it a lethal weapon.  With hard work and added strength/maturity I see Alfaro as an above average to very good defender behind the plate.

At the plate his swing is good and he generates very good power.  I only saw him hit 9 times and he went 2 for 9 with 3 Ks.  One thing that surprised me is that Alfaro has legit 50 grade speed which equates to roughly major league average.  Nothing too significant for other positions but for a catcher he has plus speed.

The projection for Alfaro is very tough.  Catching prospects flame out without notice while others take years to develop while others (the very small minority) develop as expected.  I usually am always looking for a comp for a player however for Alfaro it is tough.  Joe Mauer is simply Joe Mauer.  Buster Posey was a soph in college when he was 20, as was Matt Wieters.  Plus Alfaro is not nearly as advanced as those players either. Salvador Perez is a convenient comp but he never had the offensive upside that Alfaro currently possesses (he also didn’t have the troublesome K Rate either).  I also believe Perez will always be a better defensive catcher than Alfaro.

Currently I think that Alfaro will start the season in Myrtle Beach with many of his 2013 Hickory teammates (wouldn’t be surprised if Brinson and Mazara stay in Hickory).  Right now he is absolutely raking in the Arizona Fall League which is a good sign however the league is very offense heavy so those numbers need to be taken in context.  If he has the same type of season in 2014 that he had in 2013 then I would expect a late season promotion to Frisco.

To put a bow on all of this is very simple.  Catching prospects are very volatile. There are several stories of good prospects who caught in the minors who are now at other positions because they are either too valuable offensively or couldn’t stick at the position defensively.  A prime example of this is Wil Myers.

Alfaro will be interesting to watch because he has, by most accounts, prodigious power and last year he was showing some flashes of that on the field.  Alfaro is still very young (he turns 21 on June 11th of next year) and has had some issues with injuries.  He made the type of slight improvement you hope for from a young catcher.  He increased his wOBA, lowered his K Rate slightly and increased his BB Rate slightly.  I would be very happy with that from a 20 year old catcher who has the ability to stick at the position defensively.

It is important to be patient with The Legend.  If you see him at Frisco as a late season promotion then his season was a huge success.  If you don’t see him there do not get too down on him.  I will say that you will probably watch another Summer Olympics before you see Alfaro in Arlington (he will be turning 23 that summer by the way).  You are looking for steady improvements from Alfaro.  As the title suggests, Alfaro could be a legend, he could be a myth or could simply be Jorge Alfaro, a guy.  

Michael Cave is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. You can reach him atMichael.Cave@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @MichaelCave15.
Michael Cave

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