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Let’s lean into some Anthony Alford hype

Adam Jones, a star outfielder in his own right, wants to know why Anthony Alford doesn’t get talked about more often. That’s a really good question.

Jays fans have been enamoured with Bo Bichette and Vlady Guerrero Jr. due largely to the absurd seasons the two of them put up in unison between Low-A Lansing and High-A and Dunedin last season. But Alford, the football player who was drafted back in the Alex Anthopolous era, is a hell of a player who deserves attention too.

Let’s lean into the hype.

Here’s a good place start. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins came on the Jeff Blair show last Friday to discuss, among a wealth of other things, Alford. Atkins wasn’t short on great things to say about the prospect. Hat tip to our old pal Stoeten for the transcription of this one over at The Athletic.

“He’s legitimately the easiest guy to talk about when you talk about improvement. Every single day, he’s a little bit better. Any challenge that he’s faced, whether it’s the knee injury, whether it’s the swing-and-miss, whether it’s the swing adjustment, working with Josh Donaldson to understand how he maximizes his power, working to be a little bit more pull oriented this spring training, which has paid early dividends, every time something’s in front of him, he just checks it off. That gives you the most confidence. So now, where that ends up going is… man, he has so much, so much talent and ability. One of the things I catch myself doing is, you try not to talk about that potential too much, but it really is one of the most exciting players that we have because of the power, the speed, the purposeful practice. He just, every single challenge he faces, he seems to take it off the list and say, ‘Done, I’ve covered that, I can now pull the ball. I’ve covered that, I’m past this knee injury. You need me to have better angles and routes? They’re better. You need me to be more accurate with my throwing? It’s better.’ Ultimately I think we’re in a good position to be able to have him force our hand a bit.”

I listened to this on Friday and you can really hear the excitement in Atkins’ voice when he talks about Alford. He tries, and you can see this in the quote, not to put the wagon ahead of the horse and get too hyped up on potential, which Alford is oozing with, but you can really feel him get excited about Alford largely because of his work ethic.

The phrase that jumps out at me is when Atkins says “purposeful practice” as a reason to get hyped about Alford. Having good strength, speed, and natural ability is one thing, but putting it all together is another, and the fact Atkins goes out of his way to rave about Alford methodically improving at different aspects of the game is incredibly exciting.

Remember, Alford was a guy who was drafted largely on athletic ability. It was kind of a swing for the fences, massive risk massive reward kind of thing from the Anthopolous staff back in 2012 given that Alford was set to play NCAA football. After two years on the gridiron, Alford opted to focus on baseball full-time. So there was a lot of catching up to do, but it appears he’s well on his way to making up for that lost time.

“At the time, I did love football best,” Alford said to Toronto Star reporter Rosie DiManno a few weeks ago. “It’s so easy for a kid to fall in love with the game in Mississippi. But … the more I played baseball, travelling, just enjoying the process, I feel like struggling in baseball, it makes you more mature. Not just as a baseball player but as a man also. I love the game of baseball way more now.”

Atkins isn’t the only one who’s raved about Alford, either. John Gibbons has had a tremendous amount of praise for the 23-year-old outfielder. After Gibby trotted out a Baby Jays lineup against the Orioles last week, he had some advice for everybody fawning over Bichette and Vlady Jr.

“Don’t forget Alford.”

“Probably the biggest turnaround I’ve ever seen as long as I’ve been in the game,” Gibbons said. “From two or three years ago in Spring Training when I’ve seen him until now, he was a raw kid with tremendous athletic ability. Now, he’s really turned into a baseball player. He’s got a great swing. He’s still figuring some things out, but the sky’s the limit.”

That wasn’t the first time Gibby had raved about Alford, either.

“He’s got that electric speed, so he’s got a chance to be a player that can make a lot of things happen on the bases,” Gibbons said. “He’s really swinging the bat. Everything’s just coming into its own for him. For a football guy that was really raw, he just keeps getting better and better every year. There’s no telling how good he can be. We tell him, ‘hey, just keep playing, kid. Learn every time you’re out there. But let your natural abilities take over, too.’”

Alford, more than likely, will start the season with Triple-A Buffalo. He’s had a killer spring showing in which he’s gone 9-for-25 with a homer and a stolen base. The Jays have a lot of depth in the outfield and will, I imagine, start with Kevin Pillar in centre field and Randal Grichuk, Curtis Granderson, and Steve Pearce in the corners, but strong play with the Bisons could force the Blue Jays’ hands sooner rather than later.