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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Jorge Alfaro

Nobody has ever questioned Jorge Alfaro’s talent. The Marlins are betting that he’ll be able to refine those tools.

Photo by @FLASmitty/Twitter

He was not the “centerpiece” coming back in the J.T. Realmuto trade package, but Jorge Alfaro will be the first of those newly acquired assets to impact the Marlins at the major league level. Already demonstrating several key similarities to his predecessor, Alfaro is also being counted on to dramatically improve his plate approach.

Worst-case scenario, the Marlins found a charismatic placeholder for their top catching prospect, Will Banfield. However, they wouldn’t have done business with the Phillies unless they believed Alfaro had his own All-Star potential.

How did he get here? Traded from Phillies to Marlins on Thursday

2018 MLB Stats: .262/.324/.407, 10 HR, 95 OPS+ in 108 G

2019 ZiPS Projection: .226/.279/.364, 11 HR, 71 OPS+ in 106 G (projected prior to trade when Alfaro was on the Phillies)

Let’s kick this off with a series of highlights from 2018.

The first one will sting a little bit...

The 20-1 final score made April 7 one of the most lopsided losses in Marlins franchise history, but that’s not why this is notable. Check out those exit velocities:

  • 116.6 mph single
  • 114.5 mph home run

Plenty of other opponents smacked around Dillon Peters and Junichi Tazawa, too. Generally speaking, Alfaro has padded his offensive numbers versus Miami: .319/.390/.478, 3 home runs in 19 career games.

Even so, he flaunted a special skill right there; the Marlins collectively only had one batted ball of at least 114.5 mph all season, while Alfaro did it twice in the same game!

How about behind the plate?

Sprint, spin, and laser throw to retire the quick Ender Inciarte. The coordination is remarkable.

Let’s also file this one under “Things 225-Pound People Shouldn’t Be Able To Do”:

True, Alfaro needed some assistance from San Francisco’s infamous “Triples Alley” to notch his first major league three-bagger. He only added one more to his total over the next four months.

The main takeaway is how smooth he runs. That’s some natural-born athleticism. As long as Alfaro doesn’t put on additional weight, you would expect him to age gracefully relative to other catchers.

More Statcast fun, please:

Alfaro owns the strongest throwing arm of the Statcast era (since 2015) and it’s not particularly close. He averaged 90.8 mph this past summer on 47 “max effort” throws. Meanwhile, Realmuto averaged 87.8 mph, a distant second place among all MLB qualifiers.

The pop time is equally critical. That 1.77 sec example was perfection. Alfaro averaged 1.94 sec last season, which ranked third in the league.

Overall, “El Oso” caught just 26.3 percent of attempted base-stealers, slightly worse than the normal MLB rate. Far more understandable once we put it in context, though. The Phillies had an all right-handed rotation—Alfaro worked two games with a lefty starter all year (out of 98 total starts). The Marlins expect to be far more balanced in 2019 and beyond.

Lastly, let’s see him deliver in the clutch:

Two Marlins had slightly longer blasts in 2018 (Lewis Brinson and Derek Dietrich), but that was 446 feet to the opposite field to tie the game with the Phillies fighting to stay alive in the pennant race. They went on to win in extra innings.

Four-plus minutes’ worth of footage should be enough to demonstrate why Alfaro was perennially regarded as an elite catching prospect. Baseball Prospectus, in particular, had him ranked on their top overall list seven straight years, something I cannot ever recall seeing regarding any player from a major outlet.

The downside of that fun fact is Alfaro took longer than expected to stick at the highest level. He disappointed at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017, slashing .241/.291/.358 (79 wRC+) with strikeouts in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. Despite such tantalizing raw power, he hasn’t homered more than 18 times in any calendar year.

As our sister site The Good Phight points out, Alfaro owned MLB’s lowest contact rate last season (min. 350 PA). He was also the only regular player with more hit by pitches (14) than unintentional walks (12), suggesting flaws in both his swing mechanics and pitch recognition.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

By Wins Above Replacement (2.1 fWAR), Alfaro performed like a solid starting catcher in his rookie campaign. However, there continue to serious concerns under the hood. That WAR doesn’t fully incorporate his below-average receiving skills, or account for the fact that his .406(!!!) batting average on balls in play will come back down to Earth. He is by no means an established player entering a new organization.

Although we’ve made references to Realmuto throughout this piece, the more relevant comparison is Lewis Brinson. The Marlins are betting on their coaching staff and Alfaro’s work ethic to unlock his full potential, legitimate star potential that the industry saw in him from a very young age.

Miami’s alternatives at catcher for this coming season—Chad Wallach and Bryan Holaday—offer workload management rather than genuine competition. Alfaro will have every opportunity to prove that he’s a long-term building block.