Padres catcher Jorge Alfaro finally lived up to “The Legend”

from Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

For someone who just turned 29 last month, Jorge Alfaro has been an intriguing character in the baseball world for an awfully long time.

Despite less than 500 major league games, the Padres catcher’s physical ability has plagued baseball evaluators and fans for more than a decade. Signed by the Rangers in January 2010 for a $1.3 million bonus – then a record for a Colombian player – it didn’t take long for whispers of his exciting potential to permeate the game.

His unmatched display of tools — especially for a catcher — in Arizona’s backfields a year later earned him the nickname “The Legend” by Jason Parks, then a prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus who has since gone on to work for the Cubs and recently served as the director of pro scouting for the Diamondbacks.

The hype for Alfaro grew as he climbed the minor league ladder, and peaked when he was included as one of the top prospects in the deal that sent lefty Cole Hamels to Texas at the 2015 trade deadline Mr.

Despite making his MLB debut the following season, Alfaro didn’t get regular playing time with the Phillies until 2018, when he posted a .731 OPS in 377 games, but struggled a lot behind the plate. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to convince the organization that he was their catcher of the future, as they went on to include Alfaro in a trade with the Marlins in exchange for JT Realmuto in February 2019.

After a solid debut season with Miami in which he hit .262 with 18 homers, Alfaro’s role gradually diminished over the next two years, seemingly leaving him on the fringes of the roster.

The Padres didn’t seem like an obvious fit as a possible trade destination for Alfaro at the start of last offseason. They had recently spent significant prospect capital to acquire Austin Nola and also had one of the most promising catching prospects in baseball in Luis Campusano. Victor Caratini was also on the list.

Still, when the Padres eventually struck a deal for Alfaro last November shortly before the lockout, it wasn’t hard to see why: Padres GM AJ Preller was one of the first people in baseball to identify Alfaro’s unusual ability, as he was the Scout director of Rangers when they signed Alfaro as an amateur in 2010.

Preller had a track record of bringing in former Rangers prospects like Yurikson Profar (and Nomar Mazara shortly after he traded for Alfaro). While Alfaro’s raw ability has translated into MLB production only sparingly to this point, if anyone was going to take another pitcher against him, it would be Preller, roster construction be damned.

Alfaro impressed during spring training and Carattini was traded to the Brewers shortly before Opening Day, clearing the way for Alfaro to make the team.

Now in his fourth organization, Alfaro has thrived for the Padres and has become a fan favorite thanks to multiple hits and one simple, foul-mouthed response in a postgame interview:

(Also, let’s be honest: There’s no better way to endear yourself to fans than swearing on TV.)

Catchers are the yeomen of baseball. With all the crouching, blocking and foul balls to the face they endure on a daily basis – not to mention all the game planning involved before they even throw on the gear – expectations for a catcher’s offensive contribution have dropped dramatically. That’s part of the reason why smart teams like the Astros seem perfectly comfortable attacking the catcher position in favor of two veterans who excel at the dirty work.

It’s also what makes a hunter like Alfaro so extraordinary. That a player can withstand the rigors of the position and still retain some semblance of explosive athleticism feels like a modern miracle.

The raw numbers beyond the late-inning heroics are impressive in their own right: His 122 wRC+ ranks fifth among catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. But what makes Alfaro different are still the same raw physical tools he’s displayed as a 16-year-old.

From Statcast Sprint speed indicator, he is the fastest catcher in baseball, averaging 29.8 feet per second, the same mark as outfielders like Brett Phillips and teammate Trent Grisham. Via Statcast’s recently reintroduced Pop Time metric, which measures how quickly a catcher can get the ball to second base to cut off a potential base stealer, Alfaro ranks second in baseball.

Coincidentally, his biggest competition among catchers in both categories is Realmuto, who barely edges him out for the best pop time and is second in sprint speed.

Unlike Realmuto, whose frame suggests he can play almost any position on the diamond, Alfaro still possesses the thick and sturdy build traditionally associated with catchers—and yet he can still absolutely fly. This uncanny level of athleticism is what earns a player a nickname like “The Legend.”

Add all that to his raw power, which remains elite. When he connects, he can hit the ball as hard as almost anyone in the game. He hit a 114.8 mph homer against Arizona and his 115.2-mph line against Colorado puts him in the 98th percentile for top exit velocity in MLB.

The Alfaro still has its flaws, to be clear. His variable plate discipline (under 5% walk rate and over 30% strikeout rate) and inconsistent defense beyond his elite arm (below average receiving and framing) were enough to make him split time with Nola, though Nola’s poor offensive performance.

But if Alfaro’s first half taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have to be an ordinary player to be an impact player.

And for a San Diego team that will need contributions from every part of the roster to keep pace with the Dodgers in the NL West, Alfaro has been a fantastic find.

Jordan Shusterman is one half of the @CespedesBBQ and baseball writer for FOX Sports. He lives in DC but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and likes to watch the KBO, which means he doesn’t sleep much. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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