Analysis

When will highlight-reel Alfaro make the big-league club?

Catching prospect Jorge Alfaro returned to Phillies camp this week following Colombia’s elimination from the World Baseball Classic. He had been hitting cleanup for his home team, with a performance that included a late-inning, game-tying home run against a dominant Dominican Republic team.

A video of the homer can be seen here (seriously, watch it).

At the time, his timely bomb gave Colombia a shot at stealing a win from the Classic’s returning champions, putting one of Philadelphia’s best young prospects in the global spotlight. The attention also raised questions of when he might have a chance to do the same for the Phillies.

Alfaro was up for a cup of coffee with the team in 2016, seeing 17 plate appearances and striking out in eight of them as he reached base at just a .176 clip. It remains his only experience above double-A, and it’s fair to say that the 23-year-old was outmatched.

Despite a strong arm, there had been doubts about Alfaro catching well enough to remain a backstop going forward. There were corresponding concerns that his bat wouldn’t play at other positions, mitigating a change to first base or a corner outfield spot.

While his 2016 performance – including a .285/.325/.458 slash line and 15 homers – quelled both of those concerns to some degree, Alfaro is aware that he is still a student of the game. During an interview with Gregg Murphy after his return to Phillies camp, he cited patience and game-calling as areas of focus, both of which would be exploited at higher levels of play. His over-aggressiveness led to striking out 105 times in 435 plate appearances for the Reading Fightin’ Phils last year.

Understandably, Alfaro’s time in triple-A will be productive and educational; he isn’t just milling around until space is cleared above him. But how long will it take?

Obviously, every player takes a different amount of time to develop. Here is how many games and plate appearances other catchers who were ranked similarly to Alfaro in Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospect rankings saw at triple-A before losing their rookie status in the majors:

While this is just back-of-the-napkin math not meant to suggest similarity in profile to any of these players, it demonstrates a baseline of how long a promising catcher might be in triple-A. If he fits within this framework – again, if he fits in this framework – he could be seeing significant playing time with the Phillies before the year is out.

This might not come as a surprise— it seems plausible that Alfaro would make an appearance at some later point in the 2017 season, whether because of injury, roster expansion or his own breakout performance. It’s too soon to say, however, in what capacity he’ll be playing when he does come up, or if it’ll be the last he sees of triple-A.

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