Anthony Alford and the Toronto Blue Jays may soon be at a crossroads. The Columbia native is playing out of his mind right now for Triple-A Buffalo, but there is seemingly no room in Toronto’s outfield for the 25-year-old.
After he went on a tear during spring training, the Blue Jays traded center fielder Kevin Pillar just a couple games into the season with all signs pointing toward them clearing room for Alford. And he was called up immediately following the trade. However, Toronto reversed course and sent him right back down to the minor leagues after making another trade to land Socrates Brito from the San Diego Padres.
Brito failed to make an impression at the big league level and was similarly sent down to Buffalo. That led to Teoscar Hernandez getting his shot at the center field job, and while he has struggled to hit for average (.224) or get on base at a high clip (.298 on-base percentage) he has hit for power with 19 home runs and 47 RBI and has become the everyday starter.
There’s no room in the corners either with Louredes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, two guys the Blue Jays have invested a lot in, entrenched as starters. Then there’s Derek Fisher, who like Alford came up as a top prospect, who the Blue Jays got in a trade from the Houston Astros. Although Fisher hasn’t been an everyday starter, Toronto clearly views him more favorably than Alford or else it would be Alford who would be in the big leagues as the fourth outfielder. And Billy McKinney, another former top prospect, was the one the Blue Jays called up when Gurriel Jr. hit the injured list in late July.
Meanwhile, following a slow start Alford has been as hot as any player in Toronto’s minor league system and has a .352 on-base percentage with seven homers, 36 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 72 games this season. He has been particularly hot the last 10 games, batting .359 (14-for-39) with 11 runs scored, two homers, 5 RBI and three stolen bases. Yet the Blue Jays seem only prepared to recall him when the rosters expand to 40 players in September, a time teams often call up their top prospects.
It’s hard to understand why Hernandez, who only hits for power, is a below-average defender and doesn’t add value on the basepaths, is the one Toronto trusts to be the everyday center fielder and not the toolsy Alford. Unless Alford forces Toronto’s hand when he is likely called up in September by staying hot at the big league level, he could be traded in the offseason so the Blue Jays could capitalize on their (confusing?) depth and let Alford have a chance to play every day.
In other Marion County native minor league news, recently signed Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Luke McKenzie made his debut Aug. 11 for the Arizona Rookie League Lasorda Dodgers and singled in his first game. And he drove in his first run Aug. 13 in his second game.
Then on Friday, he went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and 2 RBI. On Saturday he drove in two more runs with a pair of singles to bring his average to .313 through five games.
McKenzie has only been a member of the Dodgers organization for two weeks after signing Aug. 5, with a $125,000 signing bonus.
West Marion, Pearl River Community College and Mississippi State alum Colby White has gotten on track with the Hudson Valley Renegades in short-season A ball after struggling with his command early on. He struck out five in two innings of no-hit ball July 31 and followed it up with two one-inning, hitless performances while striking out another five batters. He’s now struck out 22 in 13 2/3 innings and has a sterling .143 batting average against.
Former Columbia High standout Ti’Quan Forbes has spent all season in Double-A Birmingham in the Chicago White Sox system and has consistently hit around .250 all season. The third baseman is currently hitting .247 with three homers and 37 RBI in 108 games.
Despite being in his sixth season in pro ball, Forbes is still only 22 years old and has grown into his 6-foot-3 frame at 220 pounds. One of Forbes’ biggest issues has been keeping the ball off the ground, while baseball has shifted more toward lifting the ball into the air more consistently to hit for more power. Forbes makes a lot of loud contact but has a career 1.72 groundout-to-flyout ratio and is at 1.74 this year, which would be the fifth highest in the majors at any position.
The average among the top 10 third baseman in the majors is just 0.62. If Forbes is to take the next step and tap into his raw power more regularly, an adjustment to his approach to lift the ball more often may be necessary.
Pictured Above: Mississippi State alum Colby White has been pitching lights out in Single-A for the Tampa Bay Rays. | Photo Submitted