By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
Jorge Alfaro is now playing outfield.
To many, the Miami Marlins decision to find a new position for their Opening Day catcher appeared to come out of left field.
When MO2 heard the news Alfaro was in left field on Tuesday, I immediately thought of a conversation I had in Spring Training with one of my long-time industry friends.
This discussion took place in March, a few weeks before the season started. I asked my friend how Alfaro was looking. The response was: “I’d put him in left field. Take the pressure of catching away, and see what he can do focusing just on hitting.”
Looking back, my friend was way ahead of the curve on the evaluation of Alfaro.
Bottom line in Spring Training was Alfaro still was shaky behind the plate. Yet, he has talent as a baseball player. So why not put him in a better position to succeed.
Positional versatility is a benefit in today’s game.
Besides, players have moved from catcher to other positions for decades. A couple of examples? Dale Murphy caught his first few big league seasons, before becoming an MVP outfielder. And Jayson Werth, before being a standout in the outfield, was a catching prospect.
Not that I’m saying, Alfaro will reach the production levels of either two, but you see if he can be impactful at another position.
Clearly, the jury has been out on Alfaro’s ability to handle all that goes into catching. Make no mistake, the demands of the position are like no other on the baseball field. Catchers have to know the pitchers, know the opposing hitters, know how to call a game, set the infield, and observe everything else that is in front of them. Oh, and then, they’ve got to work on their hitting.
In an era of advantaged metrics, and unending amounts of new information in the game, catching is highly demanding. For many catchers, the offensive side suffers.
That’s not even mentioning the physical wear and tear, and absorbing foul balls, and dealing with concussions. Alfaro has had them, too.
Alfaro, now 28, clearly struggled with the position.
So what are the alternatives? The Marlins saw a solution that fits the skillset of the player. Yes, Alfaro is athletic. He’s also super strong, and he’s fast. Why not put him in a less demanding spot, and try to get more out of him offensively?
It’s the responsibility of an organization to put players in position to succeed. Perhaps the outfield, with the ability to catch on a limited occasion will make him a more versatile player. Even if he doesn’t fit into the 2022 plans, perhaps he shows enough to have some sort of trade value. Because as of now, he’s more of a non-tender candidate.
Why make the switch now, and not Spring Training?
The timing is fine now. The Trade Deadline has passed, and the Marlins acquired catcher Alex Jackson in a trade with Atlanta for Adam Duvall.
That move raised some roster questions. If you look at the club’s active roster, you’d notice three catchers and just three natural outfielders. Where would be the outfield depth? Well, third baseman Brian Anderson can play right field.
Clearly, the Marlins had other intentions.
In Alfaro, this move isn’t based on his current statistical output. Some may draw the conclusion that Alfaro offensively is what he is based on his numbers as a catcher. Even after yesterday, when he had an RBI double, Alfaro has a slash line of .223/.274/.324 with an OPS of .598. He has three home runs, 13 RBIs and five stolen bases.
The rationale of moving Alfaro to the outfield isn’t to mirror that kind of production. It’s the Marlins anticipating without the pressures of catching, Alfaro will become a better hitter. His Statcast numbers reveal the intrigue. His max exit velocity is 115.7 mph, which is in the 97th percentile of all big league hitters. Alfaro’s sprint speed is in the top 74 percentile. His arm strength is also there.
I was told a long time ago that left field in the NL’s DH. So it’s the least stressful position on the field. And with the DH likely in the NL next year, these final two months will give an indication if Alfaro can find a role as an outfielder, DH, who also can catch. Remember, he’s played first base this season as well.
When you consider all these factors, it makes sense to at least see if Alfaro can pull this off, and create a role for himself.
It may work out, and it may not. But I like the decision to give it a try, rather than simply giving up on a player. Because if Alfaro is with another club in 2022, there’s a chance, he may be playing outfield there. And if he can become a better hitter, concentrating more on hitting, he will provide value.
As for catching now, Jackson and Sandy Leon will get most of the reps.
Jackson, 25, is a former first-round pick with the Seattle Mariners in 2014, the sixth overall pick.
On Monday, he hit his first big league homer. Remember, he has just 21 MLB games of experience, and 51 at-bats. The Marlins get to see if with some extended playing time, he can find a role, either as the starter or backup heading into the offseason.
The other day I asked Jackson about how catching is considered a position that takes longer to develop. He said: “That goes with repetitions, getting playing time. Getting on the field, working with guys, experience. At the end of the day, the more experience you can get, the better you’re going to be. That’s goal No. 1.”