There’s no way to substantiate this, but Anthony Alford might have the MLB record for burning through three options with the least amount of service time. Believe it or not, the Blue Jays outfielder is on his third option year, having played only 22 games at the major league level since 2017.
At age 25, Alford’s barely gotten his feet wet with the Blue Jays and yet they need to decide this offseason whether he’s worth keeping on the 40-man roster, or if it’s time to sever ties with their multi-talented outfielder.
For a frame of reference, Alford was drafted the same year as Marcus Stroman and Ryan Borucki. Stroman has come and gone, Borucki had a promising rookie campaign in 2018, but Alford never established himself like others from the 2012 draft.
Alford’s narrative is similar to Dalton Pompey’s; a promising young prospect with all the tools to play centre field for the Blue Jays, whose career was mired by injuries. With Alford, a broken hamate bone, a serious concussion and a hamstring injury derailed his development.
Finally healthy again this year, Alford’s getting a look in the outfield as one of the Blue Jays’ select few September call-ups. He’s one of seven outfielders on the Blue Jays depth chart (soon to be eight when Lourdes Gurriel returns). Unfortunately, Alford’s on the bottom rung of that list.
As a player without options and a small body of work, it’s tough to know how Alford fits into the Blue Jays’ plans. Charlie Montoyo has more outfielders than he needs, yet has to rotate guys like Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis so they don’t rot on the bench.
Alford’s had his opportunities to win back the Blue Jays centre field job. Earlier this year, I wrote about Alford’s brewing battle with Kevin Pillar for the centre fielder’s job. After the Pillar trade and Alford’s brief one-game stint back in April, that battle never got going. Teoscar Hernandez of all players took the job and rank with it.
Outside his horrible luck with injuries, Alford’s numbers in the minor leagues have been stagnant over the last two seasons. In 76 games this season at triple-A, Alford slashed a respectable .259/.343/.411, but his statistics never leapt off the page and didn’t warrant a pre-September promotion.
Even if he had an option year remaining, Alford’s runway with the Blue Jays organization is running out. If he displays some impressive numbers the final few weeks of the season, the body of work still doesn’t compare to his cohorts like McKinney, Fisher or even his brother-in-law, Davis.
Given how the Blue Jays designated Dalton Pompey for assignment, it’s easy to see why the Blue Jays might do the same with Alford next spring if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. However, with his skills and some of that prospect pedigree residual remaining, Alford would be claimed in a heartbeat.
Surely, there’s some calculus the Blue Jays front office has set up which measures the risk/reward of letting go of players with Alford’s ilk. With the team as it’s constructed, it’s difficult to see the Jays giving him enough runway to establish himself as a big leaguer. They’ve already given him three years.
There’s a risk in letting Alford go, but there’s also a risk in keeping him around over other potential replacements. To me, Davis is the closest comparable to Alford in terms of skill set. So if push comes to shove, do the Blue Jays prefer Alford’s intriguing tools, or would they play it safe and stick with a more traditional centre fielder in Davis?
At some point, the leash runs out on all prospects – even one as highly regarded as Alford – someone who was ranked as high as 25th on Baseball America’s top prospect list heading into the 2016 season. Whether it’s by their own volition, the prospect shine eventually wears off.
The Blue Jays would hate to see a player with his tools leave the organization for nothing, but unless a few roster spots open up, Alford must claw his way up the outfield depth chart. With the Blue Jays’ lack of intriguing outfield options, the bar isn’t too high for Alford to overcome, but his fatal flaw is his underwhelming body of work.
Come to think of it, Alford draws some comparisons to the newest member of the Blue Jays outfield: Derek Fisher. He too was once regarded a top 100 prospect, but now at age 26, Fisher still hasn’t amassed one full season of big league at-bats over the last three years.
The Blue Jays are still hoping Fisher will break out, even if 26 is considered “advanced” in terms of prospect age. Likewise, it’s easy to see another team taking a flier on Alford, hoping he’ll blossom into a bonafide centre fielder.
With a strong showing next spring training, it shouldn’t be difficult for Alford to leapfrog his way past Fisher, Davis and McKinney on the outfield depth chart. Heck, maybe even a potential Teoscar Hernandez trade paves a clearer path for Alford as the team’s starting centre fielder in 2020.
But unless something drastic changes between now and next March, Alford might be the next “Blue Jays centre fielder of the future” who never materialized.