In case you missed it, Phillies Nation has started a new feature, the “Promotometer,” to try and determine if/when a player should be called up. If you missed the rules and the logic, check out the first Promotometer concerning Rhys Hoskins here.
Today, let’s discuss …
Stats: .320/.352/.480, .832 OPS, 3 HR, 14 RBI.
Major league service time: Alfaro came up in September 2016 after double-A Reading was eliminated from the playoffs, but it wasn’t enough to throw off his service time that determines when he’ll be eligible for free agency. Right now that time is projected at 2023, with him becoming arbitration eligible starting in 2020. Depending on how long he stays in the minors this year or even next year, that timing could change.
Alfaro is in his final minor-league option year, meaning this is the last season he could be sent down to the minors from the majors. Starting next year, Alfaro must be in, and stay in, the majors or be removed from the 40-man roster and thus be exposed to outright assignment waivers (and considering he’s earning a pittance, a team would probably claim him).
Major league hole: He’s blocked in a literal sense since the Phillies have a starter and a backup on whom the team’s favor rests. The Phillies seem to be content riding out the Cameron Rupp wave and appear willing to keep Andrew Knapp as a backup until he can either break out, flame out or just settle into that bench role. But from a franchise perspective, you have to imagine Alfaro will be up and starting every day the second the Phillies think he’s ready. He’ll turn 24 on June 11, and it behooves the Phillies to get their projected catcher of the future some good major league time.
Is he ready?: If you look at his counting stats this year, his marvelous performance in the World Baseball Classic in March for Colombia, his pedigree, the price the Phillies paid to get him and his defense, you may think he’s more than ready. And you could see why there are thousands of fans and media-types wondering why he isn’t in Philly yet … but just a second there, professor. Alfaro’s strikeout and walk rates are, at best, distressing, since he has struck out 31 times in 100 at bats this season and walked just twice. You read that right … twice.
Skinny: Read Matt Gelb’s piece in the Inquirer from Tuesday about strikeout rates of some of the Phillies prospects, and you can almost smell the franchise’s fingerprints all over it with a message directed squarely at Alfaro and Dylan Cozens. You could picture the team shoving a copy of the article into their faces, saying, “Just so you guys know, when you see Rhys called up before you, this is why.” While Cozens has responded by walking three times in May against six strikeouts, Alfaro still hasn’t walked this month, striking out 12 times in 28 May at bats, including three Ks on Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, Alfaro’s numbers have come back to earth after he tore up April, as his OPS is .667 for May after it was .896 in April. Cozens’ numbers, on the other hand, have jumped with pitch selection improvement. His May OPS of 1.062 is a huge improvement compared to an abysmal .507 in April. And if you saw any of his 3-for-5 Wednesday night performance that concluded with a walk-off b o m b BOMB, his buy-in to the patient approach could be paying off.
Back to Alfaro, and lest we forget this is also the same Alfaro who has missed significant amounts of time in his minor league career due to injury. The Phillies had to be doing back flips when he managed to get through 95 games in Reading last year and another month in Philly after appearing in just 38 games in 2015. Last year was also the first time he didn’t get any time at first base, so there is something to be said for him getting all the time he can in at catcher exclusively to truly learn the position.
Regardless of whatever health and defensive peculiarities there are, you can imagine the Phillies will just leave him down in Allentown until he shows at least an elementary command of the strike zone. Right now, he doesn’t have it. When you add in the fact that this is his last option year and he won’t be able to be sent down next year without putting him on waivers, the Phillies will make completely and totally sure his minor-league development is complete before they bring him up.
Prediction: I wouldn’t put it past the Phillies to keep him in Allentown all year for two reasons. First, there’s the option issue, but also, just to prove a point: Cut down your strikeouts, or we’re cool with Cam. Maybe he doesn’t have to solve his, umm, “selective selection” issues at triple-A, but he likely has to prove he’s at least trying to get better to change his free-swinging ways. Once the Phillies are satisfied with that, he’ll likely be their everyday starting catcher, hopefully for a long time. That era just might not start this year.