Three (Possibly) True Outcomes: Jorge Alfaro


Due to a recent hand injury, we all missed getting to see Rangers' catching prospect Jorge Alfaro in the Futures Game. So what did we miss?

Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes", which refers to walks, strike outs, and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.

When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between his ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, I will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making my best forecast on the eventual outcome. Today we'll look at one of the top all-around catchers in the Minor Leagues, Jorge Alfaro of the Texas Rangers.

The Dream

What an aptly titled section to talk about Jorge Alfaro because, well, it's some dream at this point. As a Colombian third baseman, Alfaro felt he wasn't drawing enough attention from scouts, so he moved to the Dominican Republic and began catching. It must have worked because Texas signed him as a 16-year-old for $1.3 million, the largest bonus ever given to a Colombian-born player. Since the signing, Alfaro has moved up the ranks showing the potential to become a star. In fact, Alfaro embodies a walking check list of qualities teams look for in a frontline backstop, neatly packaged in a toned 6'2 frame. So why wasn't he a top-100 prospect entering this season? Well, the word that describes Alfaro better than any other is raw. At the plate, he shows a semblance of an approach and flashes well above average power, yet it's still a work in progress. To date he has hit just .262/.324/.422 in the Minor Leagues, but this season he has hit 11 home runs in his first 72 games. Like many young talents, Alfaro struggles with offspeed pitches and tends to extend the zone more than he should, both very fixable attributes. And scouts have noted that the ball sounds a bit different off of his bat in BP. Defensively, it's a lot of the same story. Despite limited experience as a catcher upon entering pro ball, Alfaro has been already become an above average defender thanks to his outstanding athleticism and a plus arm that has allowed him to catch 38% of base stealers this year. With repetition he should continue to improve and there is little doubt that he will be a catcher in the long run. Finally, that same athleticism gives Alfaro a dimension that many catchers don't have - he actually runs quite well. Over his last 148 games, he has swiped 18 bases. That means that Alfaro could turn into a...5-tool catcher? He is still light years away from making good on all of the potential, but the end product could be something quite frightening if it all comes together. Because replacement level at catcher is so low, both in terms of real baseball and in fantasy, Jorge Alfaro is one of the highest ceiling players in all of the Minor Leagues.

Ceiling Fantasy Line: .293 average, 31 home runs, 111 runs, 121 RBIs, 20 steals

The Nightmare

While he was not included prior to this season, I think it's safe to say that Alfaro will make his first appearance on the annual Baseball America top-100 prospect this offseason. Unfortunately, that hasn't really meant much for catchers over the last 6 years. While there have been some instances of success the list includes many more Kyle Skipworths and Taylor Teagardens than Buster Poseys. Catching is hard, so hard that some of the best catching prospects (Wil Myers, Bryce Harper) get moved off of the position so that the defensive responsibilities won't limit their offensive potential, leaving the glove-first types to man the position in the big leagues. I say all this to illustrate two things. First, catching prospects miss with regularity, seemingly with a higher rate than other positions. Second, while his bat is special for a catcher, it's not so special that Texas feels the need to shift him off of the position. The biggest problem with Alfaro is that so much of the intrigue right now lies with the unknown. Admitedly though, all of the same things that can go right in his development can also go very, very wrong. Will he be able to improve his pitch recognition and plate discipline, a problem that has led to a 42-261 BB-SO ratio in his career? If he does sure up those areas, will it allow his power to translate into games? Can he become less erratic defensively simply with repetitions? Will he slow down on the bases if he puts on weight? If he doesn't put on weight, will he be able to hold up to the grind of being an everyday catcher? Will the bat play at a star level if he's forced to move off of the position? Each one of those questions draws a divided answer between scouts, with no one ready to 100% one or the other on any answer. With so much that could go wrong the floor is proportionally as low as the floor, with a chance that the two-way duties in Double-A may be too much for him to ever handle. Even if he struggles, I bet he gets a shot at the big leagues at some point, but it could be difficult to watch if the tools don't translate.

Floor Fantasy Line: .218 average, 7 home runs, 23 runs, 29 RBIs, 2 steals

The Reality

Truth be told, I much prefer this kind of prospect to a higher probability player. Isn't the big dream what scouting, or in this case writing, is all about? Watching Alfaro play and talking about his tools just gives me a special feeling, one that's unmatched by most prospects. Sadly though, the majority of raw, toolsy players won't make it. But given the choice, especially when rounding out a Minor League roster for a fantasy team, give me the high ceiling player every time. Because when it comes together, it becomes the 2011 version of Matt Kemp and that's how you win championships. With that being said, I don't think Alfaro will become that player, and even if he does it will be sometime down the road. I see too much swing and miss in his approach, too little ability to make adjustments, and too much gap between present and ceiling for him to make the leap. Simply put, I don't think Jorge Alfaro will be a dual threat catcher in a Buster Posey, Ivan Rodriguez mold. But with the athleticism and the progress he has shown to this point, I think he can be an above-average regular at the position, and his power and speed will make him a slightly better fantasy player than real offensive player. What he might lack in on-base skills, he'll make up for by hitting some home runs and swiping some bases. Due to an injury and his overall rawness, Alfaro may not debut until 2016 or 2017 at the earliest, making now the time to acquire him, before he climbs up the prospect lists. You certainly won't know exactly what you're getting with Jorge Alfaro, but you know you'll have one heck of a dream.

Fantasy Line: .266 average, 24 home runs, 69 runs, 74 RBIs, 13 steals

. . .

For more on the Rangers on their prospects, be sure to check out Lone Star Ball.

Andrew Ball is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, Fake Teams, and Fantasy Ninjas.

You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.

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