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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Jorge Alfaro

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Alfaro’s third season in Miami could prove to be his final one unless he shows tangible improvement in his plate approach and defensive fundamentals.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Jorge Alfaro’s 2020 season ended riding the bench while his back-up Chad Wallach started in the postseason. Since Alfaro was acquired from the Phillies as a potential replacement for J.T. Realmuto, he’s been tasked with filling the starting catcher void but he has not quite filled the All-Star’s shoes.

Jorge Alfaro has real physical gifts. He has long been noted to have great physical strength that translates to raw power, a strong arm and speed. The tools are there, but his approach at the plate has had lackluster results and his work with the Marlins pitching staff has also been suspect.

Percentile ranks for Alfaro’s most recent season in the Majors

His 2020 season was impacted by a personal case of COVID-19. He only played in 31 games with 100 plate appearances. His 3 home runs, slash line of .226/.280/.344 and -2.5 runs of defensive value (per FanGraphs) was worth -0.3 fWAR. Regardless of your feelings on any of these specific numbers, there is something of a consensus that Miami needs to get better production out of their catcher.

In an interview with Levi Weaver with The Athletic, Don Mattingly justified the decision to “ride the wave” and start Chad Wallach in the playoffs by saying “we know Jorgie (Alfaro) has the capability of doing some big things offensively. But in this setting, we felt like we want to prioritize the way Chad handles the pitching staff.”

At best, a catcher can be something analogous to a quarterback in the NFL—they have responsibilities fielding, hitting and coordinating the pitching attack against the opposing hitters. A great backstop can truly help a pitching staff mentally.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In an interview with Christina De Nicola for MLB.com Jorge Alfaro described being sidelined in the playoffs as a “wake-up call” and has since taken accountability for his shortcomings. Alfaro focused his offseason efforts on improving his craft, but even with a complete “buy-in” change does not happen overnight.

Heading into the 2021 season, Alfaro is still slotted at the top of Miami’s catching depth chart. The only external roster competition brought in recently is the veteran Sandy León who, after a solid tenure with the Boston Red Sox that included the 2018 World Series championship, has not cemented himself a reliable backstop at the highest level. His .216 career batting average—sub-.200 in each of the past three years—was only good for a minor league contact with this Marlins team. Though, Sandy is still a potentially impactful acquisition, if only as a veteran leader who has “been there.”

Historically, Fish fans have been blessed with exceptional catcher production from Marlins Hall of Fame candidates Charles Johnson and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez. Johnson was an exhibit of greatness across seasons and Rodríguez a “flavor of the year” that has since been enshrined in Cooperstown. This organization wouldn’t have any World Series titles without them, and adding to that trophy case will require a rock-solid successor at the position. Can Alfaro emerge as the same caliber of player?

It isn’t so clear how urgent the matter is for Miami. They did not feel pressured to make a real change over the offseason, nothing more than reportedly kicking the tires on a Willson Contreras trade. Realmuto’s recent 5-year/$115.5 million signing with the Phillies and Salvador Pérez’s 4-year/$82 million extension with the Royals provide updated benchmarks for the cost of a reliably impactful catcher, which seems to be out of the Marlins’ comfort zone. Owed only $2.05 million for the 2021 season, Alfaro could prove to be a bargain if his winter regimen translates to the real games.