We’ve seen Anthony Alford in the big leagues. He struck out a bunch and reached base just once, but the hit tool isn’t why he was 93rd on Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect rankings. Baseball Prospectus’ latest eyewitness scouting report from Steve Givarz gives him a 55 glove grade and 70 speed grade. Alford was fresh off the DL that day, so the 70 grade might not even be doing his wheels full justice. Now, of course, he’s back on the DL.
Alford wasn’t supposed to be due up until September, or even 2018, but then Kevin Pillar said something and Darell Ceciliani broke himself hitting a homer. His three game stint was hardly enough to show off his tools—Alford had just three opportunities in the outfield and all were routine—but watching him flank Pillar in left last Sunday got me thinking about something exciting: the Kansas City Royals.
Yes, I know, there is perhaps nothing less exciting than the Kansas City Royals in 2017. They just sent Phil Hughes to the DL. It’s a snoozefest. In 2014, however, the Royals were a base-hit away from winning the World Series. After their dominant bullpen, the most exciting topic in baseball was their ridiculously talented outfield. Ben Lindbergh went so far as to call it the ‘ultimate’ outfield. At Baseball Prospectus, Sam Miller said, “we’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the greatest defensive outfield of all-time.” That’s not even a hot take: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson collectively led the league in both UZR and DRS that season while holding opponents to a minuscule .060 BABIP on fly balls.
Norichika Aoki prevented this from happening every game, but when the Gordon-Cain-Dyson outfield started it wasn’t just a nice boost for the Royals starting pitcher that night. It was a demoralizing blow to every hitter on the opposing team. It was like Petco Park before they moved the fences in. It was like those three were trying to kill the fly ball revolution before it even happened.
Why did I just write a bunch of words about Kansas City? With Alford patrolling left field and Pillar in centre, it occurred to me that the Jays were just one name away from assembling an outfield that could conceivably rival the 2014 Royals. That name belongs to a slightly concussed 23-year-old who might develop into a better true CF than any of these guys: Dalton Pompey.
With Bautista likely sticking around Toronto for one, maybe two more years, the Alford-Pillar-Pompey überoutfield might not see daylight until 2019. Still, it feels inevitable. And when it hits, it should generate the same buzz that the 2014 Royals got, that the pre-Marte suspension 2017 Pirates outfield got.
Those are the available speed and defence scouting grades for Alford and Pompey. Don’t stare too long. Pompey’s stock has fallen since cracking MLB’s top-100 list in 2014, but his glove has never been in question. BP scout Chris Mellen gave it a 60 grade, calling his defence the “best present aspect of [his] game in terms of polish.”
In non-scout jargon, he can make plays like this:
I don’t know what the exit velocity or catch probability is on that highlight, but he takes a perfect route and has elite closing speed. Barely needed to dive on a ball most centre fielders would probably try to play off a bounce.
Alford’s glove comes in a hair below Pompey’s, with the general criticism being that he uses his plus-plus speed to cover up inconsistent routes. If you read that again it’s not even a criticism, because plus-plus speed is always a good thing. As for the eye test, here’s the best highlight I could find:
Now that you’re sold on Pompey and Alford, all that’s left to do is sell you on Pillar. What’s that? You’re sold? My job here is done.
Of course, this ridiculously athletic outfield may never fully come to fruition. Injuries can and will strike. Pillar is somehow one of the Jays’ best trade chips after Donaldson should Atkins decide to rebuild. And Gibbons will always be under pressure to play the hot bat at the expense of stellar defence. But hopefully by 2019 the value of defence will be more quantifiable and he won’t face quite the same pressure that drove Ned Yost to start Aoki over Dyson 126 times.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports