Photo by Cheryl Pursell
Coming into the season, Jorge Alfaro was in a very good spot. He was still the heir apparent to the catching job in Philadelphia, even though Andrew Knapp won the backup job behind Cameron Rupp to start the year. Alfaro came to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after playing 97 games in Reading last season and another six in Philadelphia.
Early in the season, it looked like Alfaro was ready for the majors. He hit .333 (24-for-72) in April and was still there after a 3-for-5 day against Buffalo on May 11th. From there though, things have slid. He went under the .300 mark on May 15th only to go back to .301 the next day with a 2-for-5 day at the plate. That was the last time this season that Alfaro has been over the .300 plateau.
By the end of May, he was at .286 after hitting just .255 (24-for-94) that month. June got even worse and saw him hit .200 (16-for-80) in 23 games. By the all-star break, he was at a season-low .245 on the season and in two games since the break, has gone 3-for-8, upping his average to .249 on the season.
“He’s working on a lot of things right now. He’s trying to figure out a couple things in his swing; Sal [hitting coach Sal Rende] has been working with him on a couple of mechanical things and we’ve been talking to him over the past month or so about his approach,” said manager Dusty Wathan.
One thing that Alfaro worked on is working the count and drawing walks. After walking just four times in his first 209 plate appearances this season, the 24-year old catcher drew a walk in three straight games and four-out-of-five games at one point in June. From June 15th to the end of the month, Alfaro drew eight walks in 42 plate appearances. So far this month, he’s drawn four walks in 39 plate appearances, showing a definite improvement in discipline.
One potential drawback to the added plate discipline is that he may be just slightly less aggressive at the plate and has been late on a lot of pitches, relating in a large number of foul balls into the seats behind first base.
“His pitch recognition has been better, but he still hasn’t hit the ball hard in play. I think there are a lot of foul balls that he’s late on, so I think he’s still got some things in his mind that he’s trying to work on mechanically and sometimes, he takes those to the plate instead of just working on those before the game,” Wathan explained. “Talking to him the last couple of days, he struck out twice at the All-Star Game, but he said he felt good at the plate, so I think he’s going in the right direction.”
Even with his early season success, the Phillies delivered a very strong message to Alfaro this past May.
“He was told early in the year, ‘you’re not going to the major leagues this year. The plan is to keep him all year, and he’s out of options next year, so he’ll be in the big leagues with somebody, hopefully, it’s us,” Wathan said. “He was told that in May; we sat down and talked about some things and we were as forward as we could be about it. He’s here to work on things so he can be as close to a finished product as you can be when you get to the major leagues next year.
“I thought, and the organization thought, it was important for him to know. Don’t keep trying to chase that carrot, you’re here to work on things, so that when you get there, you’re comfortable with it and you’ve already worked out things.”
While his offense has slid, his defense has slid a little as well, or at least, hasn’t gotten any better. Alfaro has nine passed balls this season, the most in the International League and just one behind Fresno’s Juan Centeno for the most in Triple-A baseball. His arm remains strong, having thrown out 29.5-percent of would-be base stealers this season, just ahead of his career average of 27-percent.
As pointed out, the Phillies will have a decision to make on Alfaro between now and the opening day of the 2018 season, since he’s out of options. Wathan did allow that if an emergency, such as an injury to Knapp or Rupp, the Phillies could soften their stance on bringing Alfaro to Philadelphia. He also left open the chance that Alfaro could return to the Phillies in September, which appears very possible, since he is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and teams generally look to add an additional backstop.
Has Alfaro slid backward this season? It’s hard to say that he’s taken any considerable step back, considering that it’s his first season at Triple-A. With Reading, he hit 15-67-.285/.325/.458 in 2017 and he’s slashing 6-40-.249/.302/.365 with the IronPigs this season.