Anthony Alford’s spring training — and, ultimately his pursuit of grabbing the roster spot that everybody wanted him to grab — got off to a bang.
He was going to steal that spot on the 26-man roster. That quite literally was the narrative, as Alford swiped three bags in his Grapefruit League debut back in late February, sending Blue Jays fans into a frenzy about what the year had in store. But since then? There hasn’t much much to write home about for the enigmatic former top prospect.
Alford, as we know, is out of option this year. It’s a make or break spring. Either he makes the team or he’s exposed to waivers. On the bright side, if he keeps playing like this, maybe waivers won’t even be an issue. For all the wrong reasons, of course.
As I said earlier, everybody is rooting for Alford. Whether it’s fans, media, or the team’s staff, Alford is somebody who people want to see succeed. I mean, obviously you want top prospects to make good on their potential and become successful players who make the team better, but, in this case, Alford’s overwhelmingly likable personality makes him so easy to root for. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see him struggling as much as he is this spring.
Since that first game in which he smacked a single and swiped three bags in two plate appearances, Alford has gone 2-for-18 at the plate. He hasn’t yet taken a walk and he’s struck out 12 times. His glove hasn’t been able to carry him in the field, either. Alford botched a routine flyball in one of Toronto’s first televised games of the spring and he’s struggled to come up with plays since.
The way things are going, it’s getting more and more difficult to imagine Alford travelling north with the team at the end of spring. There’s just over two weeks left until the Jays will head to Montreal for their annual two-game exhibition series and then Opening Day is set just a couple of days after that. Alford is running out of room to steal that roster spot.
Honestly, in the brave new world of the 26-man roster, it seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago that we would be talking about Alford not cracking this team. The Jays would have an extra spot on the roster to work with and pretty big opening in centre field. Randal Grichuk is slated to be the team’s starting centre fielder and apparently he doesn’t even prefer playing there. The team also lacks speed and athleticism on the bench, so Alford’s skill set would be a nice addition to the roster.
He also had the added benefit of the whole options issue on his side, as other players competing for roster spots like Rowdy Tellez, Billy McKinney, and Jonathan Davis could be sent to the minors without being subject to waivers. All Alford had to do was come in and have a passable spring and that backup outfield gig would certainly be his as basic asset management would suggest keeping the player without options than the one with options.
It really isn’t even that much of an uphill battle, when you think about it. But Alford’s spring has been so rough that he’s playing himself out of an opportunity.
When pondering how Toronto’s 26-man roster will play out, it’s looking as though Tellez, who has a .890 OPS through Grapefruit play thus far, could jump over Alford for a bench gig. As I’m writing this, Jonathan Davis, who features an elite glove, just smacked a two-run double in just his fourth outing of spring. Beyond that, the Jays will also more than likely need to find a way to add fireballer A.J. Cole and backup infielder Joe Panik to the 40-man roster in order for them to crack the team, meaning some other players are going to have to be removed in order to open up space.
If Alford doesn’t turn things around quickly, he’ll end up being one of those guys removed from the 40-man roster in order to make space for somebody else. There’s a golden opportunity for him here to succeed. All he has to do is show something. Anything. Otherwise, the Blue Jays will be forced to move on and Alford will have stolen the roster spot from himself.