Blue Jays' No. 3 leads shining Toronto prospects in Solar Sox
By Mike Rosenbaum
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Hitting for power arguably may be Anthony Alford's weakest tool, but that's not to say there isn't considerable pop in his bat.
The Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect confirmed that much on Thursday afternoon at Salt River Fields when he connected on a tape-measure home run in his first at-bat to begin the top of the second inning. With an exit velocity of 108 mph, Alford's prodigious blast cleared the batter's eye in center field, landed in the first of three tiers above the top of the wall, traveling a projected 434 feet according to Statcast™.
"It was a hanging curveball," said Alford. "I knew that I got it, but I was worried that it wasn't going to get over the wall in center field. When it got out, I was kind of surprised because I was focused on running around first base but also trying to see where it would land."
Although it would ultimately be his only hit in the game, Alford's homer set the tone for Mesa in an eventual 7-5 win over Salt River.
"I feel like after my first at-bat I didn't get many pitches to hit," said Alford, who finished 1-for-5 at the plate. "[Salt River's] pitchers did a good job of executing pitches against me and hitting their spots, and I feel like I got too aggressive and impatient after that first at-bat."
After an injury-plagued first half that saw him make two trips to the disabled list for a banged-up knee and a concussion, respectively, and appear in just 33 games for Class A Advanced Dunedin, Alford settled in after the mid-season mark to hit .257/.381/.449 with eight home runs and 13 steals over his final 59 regular-season contests in 2016. All together, he posted a .236/.344/.378 batting line with 28 extra-base hits including nine home runs.
Now playing in the Arizona Fall League, Alford is looking to both make up for lost time and build on his strong second half.
"I feel like I'm just hitting my stride," he said. "I'm learning something new every day about myself, still learning my strengths and weaknesses. I just try to continue to be a student of the game."
In particular, Alford believes not hitting leadoff every day in the Fall League will aid his development at the plate.
"I'm not hitting leadoff right now, which is something that I'm not used to," said Alford, who batted leadoff in 64 of his 92 games for Dunedin in 2016. "You get pitched totally different in the middle of the lineup, so I'm kind of learning how to hit in different spots in the order."
The Rafters' lead didn't hold for long, however, as Alford opened the top of the second with a booming home run to center field. Mesa would score twice more before the end of the frame, courtesy of a Ryan McBroom (Blue Jays' No. 28) two-run single, while Danny Jansen's (Blue Jays' No. 30) sacrifice fly in the third inning extended their lead to 4-1.
But Salt River came right back in the bottom half of the frame, scoring four runs, all with two outs, on five hits to re-take the lead. Tigers No. 3 prospect Christin Stewart's three-run homer to right-center field off of a 94-mph fastball from Mesa starter Jeff Brigham (Marlins No. 19) evened the score, while Ryan McMahon's (Rockies' No. 6) RBI single back up the middle gave the Rafters a 5-4 lead.
That score held until the top of the sixth inning, when Mesa shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang (Indians' No. 9) plated Jansen from first base with a double down the left field line. Mesa regained the lead in the following frame on McBroom's bases-loaded walk, and Austin Nola (Marlins) extended the Solar Sox's lead to 7-5 with a two-out RBI single to right field.
Jacob Nottingham (Brewers' No. 14) and McMahon paced the Rafters' offense with two hits apiece, with the latter finishing 2-for-2 with two walks and an RBI, while the 20-year-old Diaz scored two runs out of the leadoff spot as part of a 1-for-5 performance.
Mesa's offense was powered by a trio of Blue Jays prospects in Alford, McBroom and Jansen, who combined to go 5-for-12 with two extra-base hits and five RBIs. Jansen and McBroom tallied two hits apiece, while McBroom led all Solar Sox hitters with three RBIs.
"With most of our guys here, we were all at [Dunedin] together this year," said Alford, "so we had that bond and great relationships with each other even before coming out here."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.