Jorge Alfaro Scouting Report: 21 year old Texas Ranger catcher Jorge Alfaro ranked #2 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 30 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 32 (and weren't traded). I've done this the last couple of years, and I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so some of this will be a repeat of what I've written before, particularly regarding draft history or performance pre-2014. Also, this is not based on my personal observations -- I'm not a scout, and haven't seen most of these guys. I'm just aggregating the numbers and what others say about these players.
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at Jorge Alfaro...
Alfaro is listed at 6'2", 185 lbs., and is a righthanded hitter who turns 22 in June. Signed in January, 2010, out of Colombia as a 16 year old, and commanding a $1.3 million signing bonus, Alfaro is a player who, from the time he joined the organization, had people exciting about his ceiling. His tools were so raw, though, that the excitement had to be tempered by the realization that Alfaro had a long way to go to even get to the majors.
Alfaro played in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 as a 16 year old and struggled with the bat, putting up a .221/.278/.291 line in 187 plate appearances. Despite not doing much with the bat in his first shot at pro ball, he was brought over to the United States for the 2011 season and played in the Northwest League, largely populated by players three to four years older than Alfaro was. Despite the age gap, Alfaro held his own, putting up a .300/.345/.481 line in 171 plate appearances.
Alfaro checked in at #8 in Baseball America's Northwest League Top 20 Rankings after 2011, getting praise for his power, soft hands, and big arm, but getting downgraded for being overly aggressive. The over-aggressiveness also shows up when taking a closer look at his 2011 numbers...Alfaro struck out 54 times in 171 plate appearances, while walking just 4 times, after striking out 48 times and walking 5 times in 2010. That sort of lack of plate discipline was a big red flag -- while the .345 OBP is respectable, it was fueled by a .420 BABIP and more HBPs than walks.
The plate discipline improved in 2012, with Alfaro spending the entire season in the low-A Sally League with Hickory. Alfaro walked 16 times in 300 plate appearances – still not great, but compared to his 6 unintentional walks in 358 plate appearances as a pro prior to 2012, its an improvement. Contact was an issue, as Alfaro did strike out 84 times, but he did put up a .261/.320/.430 line, and as a 19 year old catcher in a pitcher’s park in a pitcher’s league in A ball, that’s still pretty decent.
Rankings of Alfaro after 2012 varied widely. Baseball America did not include him on their top 20 prospects list for the South Atlantic League in 2012, but did rank him 9th on the Rangers top 10 list. Keith Law had Alfaro 8th on his Ranger list – basically the same as BA, since BA included Leonys Martin, and Law didn’t. MLB.com, meanwhile, had Alfaro ranked #88 in their overall top 100. Jason Cole has Alfaro ranked #5 on his top 50 Ranger prospect list – ahead of Leonys Martin – and Jamey Newberg also had Alfaro ranked #5 on his list. John Sickels, on the other hand, had Alfaro all the way down at #10. Jason Parks had Alfaro #76 on his top 101.
Alfaro repeated low-A Hickory in 2013, while also getting a handful of PAs in the complex league and in high-A and had a combined .265/.346/.463 slash line in 459 plate appearances. His contact rates were still problematic -- Alfaro drew 32 walks against 122 Ks -- but 20 HBPs helped boost his OBP, and Alfaro also was 18 for 21 stealing bases this season.
His performance apparently impressed, as prospect-watchers improved his ranking. Parks had Alfaro at #41 on his top 101, Keith Law had Alfaro at #44, Baseball America ranked him #54 and MLB.com had Alfaro at #39. MLB.com also said Alfaro had the best arm of any position prospect in its top 100, and had him as the third-best catching prospect in baseball. Alfaro also was ranked as the #14 prospect in the South Atlantic League by BA, though strangely enough, he was ranked behind three other Ranger prospects -- Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Nick Williams -- who finished behind him on the Ranger list.
There were hopes that Alfaro would break out in 2014, much like Joey Gallo did last year. Instead, what we saw from Alfaro was more of the same. That's not a bad thing -- Alfaro split the season between high-A and AA as a relatively young player, put up a respectable .261/.323/.440 line between the two levels, and continued to show off his big-time arm and big-time power. But he also continued to struggle with the rest of his defensive game, and his plate discipline continued to be an issue, as he struck out 123 times while walking just 29 times in 536 plate appearances. If you liked Alfaro coming into 2014, you probably still like him the same amount. If you didn't like him coming into 2014, he didn't do anything to change your mind.
In terms of the rankings, Alfaro was #45 on the Baseball America mid-season prospect rankings, and will probably be in the same 40-50 range when BA comes out with their offseason top 100 list next month. Interestingly, Alfaro was third on the BA top 10 list for the Rangers, finishing behind Gallo and Jake Thompson. BA ranked Alfaro 2nd in the Carolina League top 20 list, while saying that "[e]ven Alfaro boosters acknowledge he needs to improve his receiving and reduce his passed ball total." MLB.com has Alfaro as the second-best catching prospect in the minors heading into the 2015 season, though they call him "too aggressive at the plate and raw as a receiver."
Enthusiasm about Alfaro is largely driven by his impressive power potential and his big arm. Jason Parks has previously described Alfaro as being a 6 runner, with 7+ raw power and an 8 arm. MLB.com put a 75 on Alfaro's arm, a 65 on his power and a 60 future overall grade. That package means that, if things come together for Alfaro, you're looking at a potential future All Star.
As far as the future goes for Alfaro, one would expect him to go back to AA Frisco to start the 2015 season, and work on his receiving skills and plate approach. I think the Rangers are hopeful that, between Opening Day, 2016, and Opening Day, 2017, Alfaro becomes their starting catcher in the majors.
What sort of ceiling does Alfaro have? Given the skill set Alfaro is exhibiting now -- big arm, big power, athletic, the type of catcher who should block the plate well and give you good defense, but who isn't going to walk a lot or hit for average, lots of Ks -- Lance Parrish is the comp that comes to mind for me, although Alfaro is faster than Parrish was. Parrish was an eight time All Star, six time Silver Slugger winner, three time Gold Glove winner. His 324 career home runs tie him with Gary Carter for fifth most by a player who got at least 80% of his playing time behind the plate, and his 35.7 bWAR is 18th all time in that same group, between Roy Campanella and Jim Sundberg. If he doesn't improve his approach and defense, he could end up with a Miguel Olivo-type career, and Olivo is someone those less bullish on him have compared him to.
A Lance Parrish-type career for Alfaro would be a home run for the Rangers' scouting and minor league system, a very successful career. Alfaro still needs to show significant growth and improvement to get to that point, but that sort of potential is what has people excited about his future.