Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mackanin: Alfaro has potential to be 'monster'

Jorge Alfaro showed why scouts love him Thursday afternoon at Spectrum Field.
Alfaro ripped a ball into the wind, doubling off the right-center-field wall in the fourth inning of a 6-0 victory over the University of Tampa, the Phillies' final day before they play the Yankees in Friday's Grapefruit League opener in Tampa, Fla.. He also threw out a basestealer by several feet in the fourth.
"I'm trying to get better," Alfaro said.
Alfaro is the No. 3 catching prospect in baseball and the No. 72 prospect overall, according to He is expected to open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies have no need to rush him. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp ranked eighth out of 19 qualified catchers with a .752 OPS last season. His .448 slugging percentage ranked fourth.
Alfaro needs the work, anyway. He appeared in four games with the Phillies in September, going 2-for-16 with one walk and eight strikeouts. He hit .285 with 15 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .783 OPS in 97 games with Double-A Reading in 2016.
The consensus seemed to be this: tons of talent, scary power, cannon arm, but raw.
"He's got tremendous power potential," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He kind of has a tendency to inside-out the ball, and if he can learn how to get the head out, he's going to be a monster."
Defensively, Mackanin needs to see improvement, too.
"All around," Mackanin said. "He's looked good so far and he's showing noticeable improvement. One thing he's got going for him is his arm strength. He doesn't have to worry about being extremely quick with his release, his transfer, because he makes up for it with his arm."
Mackanin said Alfaro's throw to second base was timed at 1.95 seconds. He said it could be 1.8 seconds with a quicker release.
Alfaro only had one opportunity to throw out a basestealer in September, but he caught him. Statcast™ measured the throw at 89.4 mph, although it must be noted that the ball had bounced away from him and he threw from a standing position.
One throw from a standing position makes Alfaro's arm impossible to compare to other catchers. But 66 catchers last season had at least 10 throws on stolen -base attempts. Christian Bethancourt averaged 86.7 mph to lead the list. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez ranked second at 86.4 mph.
"I've been working on blocking, receiving, calling games and all of that," Alfaro said. "You never stop learning. That's the way I think."
Notes from Thursday's exhibition
•  Center fielder Roman Quinn singled, stole second and scored in the first and homered in the third.
•  Right fielder Dylan Cozens crushed a two-run home run to center field in the fifth inning. He had four RBIs.
•  Shortstop J.P. Crawford doubled, walked and scored. He also turned two double plays with second baseman Scott Kingery.

Panda among quartet of Sox with happy return to action

It seemed like everywhere you looked, someone from the Red Sox was making a comeback from a prolonged absence on Thursday.
Those stories, and Mitch Moreland's three-run homer in his first game action with Boston, are what made the 9-6 victory over Northeastern in the opening of spring exhibition play most meaningful.
Considering what Pablo Sandoval (left shoulder labrum surgery), Blake Swihart (left ankle surgery), Sam Travis (torn ACL in left knee) and starting pitcher Brian Johnson (anxiety/depression) were coming back from, this was a special day.
"Especially the first day, things were a little bit of a challenge because of all the months I missed playing," said Sandoval. "I feel excited to be back on the field."
Sandoval played for the first time since last April 10 and smashed a double in his second at-bat, while handling all of his chances cleanly at third. He is hoping to win back the starting job he lost last Spring Training.
"Panda, it's been nearly a year since he's been in a game, and he handled three balls cleanly," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Good to see the swing he puts on a ball for a double down the right-field line. Regardless of who the opponent is, when you miss that much time and you come back, and in his case in particular, where he's put a lot of work, it's good to see it get off on a positive note."
With abandon, Sandoval belly-flopped into second on his double. He acknowledged later that feet-first would probably be a better approach considering the type of surgery he had.
"I'm not supposed to [dive], but you don't think about it," Sandoval said. "That's the way I play."
Swihart's 2016 season ended on June 4 when he jammed his left ankle into the base of the side wall in left field at Fenway Park. But there he was against Northeastern, stroking a single up the middle in his first at-bat and hauling all the way home from first to score on a double by Steve Selsky.
"It feels good," said Swihart, who is in competition with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez in the catching derby. "That was my first time running around the bases again, and going first to home felt fine. Every first game, everybody's adrenaline should be going. I was excited. June 4 was a long time ago. I was ready to get out there."
So, too, was Travis, who had a monster Spring Training last year for the Red Sox, only to go down for the season on May 29 while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. In the bottom of the third, Travis, ranked No. 4 among Red Sox prospects, drilled one over the replica Green Monster at JetBlue Park for a three-run shot.
"It was great," Travis said. "Hit it pretty far foul, but the wind took it back so it worked out.
Then there is Johnson, who feels like his old self physically and mentally again. The No. 12-rated Red Sox prospect struck out three over a pair of hitless innings.
"A ton better," said Johnson. "Night and day. It doesn't even compare to [last year], to be honest."
"There were a number of positive things inside an exhibition game today," said Farrell.

Tigers get glimpse of prospect Jaye's potential in exhibition

 Myles Jaye wasn't at Spring Training with the Tigers last year. Detroit couldn't keep catcher Bryan Holaday, who was out of Minor League options, so it traded him to the Rangers and picked up Jaye in return.
Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Jaye started the Tigers' Spring Training schedule this year. With two frames in Thursday's 8-0 exhibition win over Florida Southern College, Jaye opened a spring slate that could end with the Tigers facing two more decisions like they had with Holaday.
Jaye split last year between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, posting a 5-12 record and a 3.95 ERA with 135 strikeouts over 161 2/3 innings. He ranks 16th on MLB Pipeline's latest list of Top 30 Tigers prospects, with the potential as a back-end starter.
The 25-year-old right-hander gave up a ground-ball single and a leadoff walk to go along with a strikeout in his two innings on Thursday, but he induced four groundouts and erased one of his runners with a pickoff.
"I think his crossfire [delivery] makes him sneaky on hitters," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he's probably got the ability to pitch up. I do like his slider when he throws it with a tight rotation. I don't think it looks very similar spinwise to his fastball. You still want to see big league hitters react to him, guys that have a little more experience."
Meanwhile, shortstop prospect Dixon Machado and corner outfielder Steven Moya -- like Holaday -- are out of options. Machado and Moya could be more blocked than Holaday was last spring. The Tigers let Holaday compete for the backup catching spot while working at third base and the outfield, then traded him near the end of camp when Texas needed an understudy for Robinson Chirinos.
Like they did with Holaday, expect the Tigers to wait until the end of camp to decide on Machado and Moya. Though general manager Al Avila said some teams have already put their out-of-options players on waivers to gauge interest, he wants to let camp play out.
Moya went 1-for-2 with two RBIs, while Machado added a hit in Thursday's exhibition.
One Major League scout following the Tigers said he suspects Moya would have a better chance at clearing waivers than Machado, given his positional limitations. If not, expect Avila to try to work out similar deals. The return could be important to building depth in the farm system.
"You always have the injury factor, so that might take care of a decision right there," Avila said last week.

For starters, D-backs roll past Grand Canyon

The D-backs checked the boxes in their exhibition game against Grand Canyon University on Wednesday, as 27 players saw game action and the team came out relatively unscathed on the injury front in its 9-1 victory.
Most starters made one plate appearance before departing.
"I think the guys were excited about it," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "They were playing energized, focused baseball and that's what I was most excited about."
Here are some other notes from Wednesday:
• Third baseman Jake Lamb drove in the first run of the game with a ground-rule double down the right-field line.
"I was just looking to shoot something over the shortstop and he threw a real slow slider/curveball and just hit it down the line," Lamb said. "I'll take it. You can practice all you want, but little things like guy on second -- get him over -- guy on third less than two outs, granted it's college competition, but these are real situations you can put yourself in."
• Outfielder Reymond Fuentes had to leave the game when he knocked knees with the GCU third baseman rounding third base. Lovullo said the injury did not appear serious.
• Speaking of injuries, catcher Chris Herrmann (bruised right foot) caught a live batting practice session while right-hander Matt Koch (right hamstring) threw a side session and reported no discomfort.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Chinese Taipei

The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has kept quiet to this point on potential players for its roster. What is clearer is who will likely not be on the roster for the team's opening-round games in South Korea.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan decided to boycott the World Baseball Classic and deny its support to the national team. Fortunately, three of the four CPBL teams decided independently to allow their players to participate in the Classic, but the Lamigo Monkeys followed suit with the league and held out. That means Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang -- who were projected as three of Chinese Taipei's top hitters -- will not be on the roster.
Meanwhile, potential ace Wei-Yin Chen said he would let the Marlins decide whether to allow him to participate in the Classic as he continues to recover from the elbow injury he suffered last summer. Many MLB fans will recognize former Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, who's coming off a decent 2016 season in the Royals bullpen, but at age 36, he could forgo the Classic to focus on making one last Major League roster in Spring Training.
How they fared in the past
Chinese Taipei made headlines in the '13 Classic when it won Pool B and came just an inning shy of sweeping its way through the opening round, before blowing a late lead against South Korea. The island nation kept surprising when it held a 3-2, ninth-inning lead on two-time defending champion Japan in Round 2 before eventually losing in extra innings. It then ran out of steam in a 14-0 elimination loss to Cuba. Still, after opening-round knockouts in '06 and '09, the most recent Classic represented a major step forward for Taipei.
What they should do well
While it's hard to project Taipei's strengths without any confirmed names in hand, the team has historically fared well at the plate. Infielders Chih-Hsien Chiang, Chih-Sheng Lin and Yi-Chuan Lin are talented hitters who could form the middle of Chinese Taipei's order.
Where they could struggle
Taipei's fortunes could ultimately rest with its starting rotation, and someone will need to step up if Chen and Wang do not make the trip to Seoul. The team may end up looking to its under-23 squad for starting options. Former Tigers reliever Fu-Te Ni has a good chance to be the closer.
How far they could go
Chinese Taipei has a proud baseball history that stretches back for decades, and its current No. 4 ranking in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rankings indicates it's a bigger power in the baseball world than many might think. Pool A is wide open, and Taipei could still win at least two games against Israel, the Netherlands and South Korea and move on to Round 2. But without some of its biggest stars, it's hard to see Chinese Taipei advancing any further once it squares off against other nations that are filled with Major League talent. In the end, Taipei's thin pitching staff could prove to be its undoing.

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team Canada

There's still plenty of potential names out there for Canada who haven't confirmed their participation, most notably infielders Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Brett Lawrie of the White Sox, as well as rising young pitchers James Paxton of the Mariners and Jameson Taillon of the Pirates.
Orr hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2013, but the utilityman is a legend north of the border after scoring the game-winning run in extra innings against Team USA to win the 2015 Pan American Games final in Toronto. He'll join Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina among the players who are representing their country for the fourth time at the Classic.
Reds slugger Joey Votto, a Toronto-area native who played for Canada in 2009 and 2013, announced last month that he was declining his invitation to play for the team, opting to focus on getting ready for the 2017 regular season.
How they fared in the past
Canada burst onto the international scene in the inaugural 2006 Classic, when it upset the U.S., 8-6, and won two of its three opening-round games before missing the Round 2 cut on a tiebreaker. The Canadians lost to Team USA by just one run in 2009, and held a 3-2 lead over the U.S. in the sixth inning in 2013 before their southern neighbor stormed back with a late-game rally.
All in all, Canada has been competitive, but it is still looking to punch its first ticket to Round 2. However, as its gold medal at the '15 Pan-Ams prove, the nation has talent beyond a handful of recognizable Major Leaguers.
What they should do well
The Canadians' biggest asset is clearly their bats. Martin has seen his average decline in recent years, but he's also coming off back-to-back 20-homer seasons. Morneau is in the twilight of his career, but is still a threat to run into a homer with any swing. Saunders is coming off his first All-Star season. If Freeman joins this lineup, opposing pitchers are in for a long night.
Where they could struggle
Just as it's no secret Canada can hit, it's no secret they've struggled to keep runs off the board. The Canadians have allowed nearly eight runs per game over the first three installments of this tournament, and they appear to again lack the top-line starter that other Pool C nations (Max Scherzer for Team USA, Jose Quintana for Colombia) will have.
Manager Ernie Whitt told that he expects Paxton and Pivetta (who went a combined 12-8 with a 3.27 ERA between the Phillies' Double-A and Triple-A clubs last season) to head the rotation, but even if Taillon joins that duo, it could be a tall task for them to contain the profoundly deep lineups that the Dominican and the U.S. will field.
How far they could go
With what we know about the rosters so far, Canada will be a heavy underdog to supplant the Dominican and U.S. clubs and advance to Round 2 for the first time. The Canadians will need to ride their offense and hope for just enough clutch pitching late to surprise people -- something they have done sporadically in the past.

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Korea

South Korea's current roster features one current Major League player in the Cardinals' Oh, who is coming off an excellent rookie season in St. Louis. The bigger story, however, is the big leaguers who will be missing from Korea's roster. Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was removed from the roster because of off-the-field issues. Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim removed himself from consideration to focus on winning a starting job with Baltimore in Spring Training. The Rangers, meanwhile, have filed a formal request to tournament organizers to withhold Shin-Soo Choo from playing, out of concern for his injury history.
While Korea will lack Major League star power this time around, manager Kim In-Sik can still count on a wealth of KBO talent including All-Star starting pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang and 2016 KBO batting champion and RBI leader Hyung-Woo Choi.
How they've fared in the past
The South Koreans have twice come up just short at the Classic. In 2006, they were eliminated by Japan in the semifinals. Three years later, they made the finals but again fell to Japan in an extra-inning heartbreaker. In 2013, they were a surprise knockout in pool play, losing a tiebreaker with Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands.
What they should do well
On the mound, in addition to its KBO All-Star starters, Korea has seven relievers with KBO closing experience. But Oh's presence in particular should be a huge boost; he had 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA for St. Louis last season.
On offense, Choi (.376 average, 144 RBIs in the KBO last year) and former Mariners slugger Dae-ho Lee will still be tough outs for opposing pitchers. At age 37, Lee is searching for a Major League club in 2017, but he made the national team, according to Yonhap News. Lee has gone a combined 10-for-29 (.345) with seven RBIs over the last two Classics.
Where they could struggle
Even with Oh joining as a late addition, the pitching staff is thin. It's lost several pitchers to offseason surgeries, as Yonhap News reported. On the other side, Korea's offense will likely not be as deep as in years past without sluggers Choo, Kang and Hyun Soo Kim.
How far they could go
Korea has shown it can run with the other baseball powerhouses in the Classic. Even without some of their biggest stars, the South Koreans will be a co-favorite with the Netherlands to advance out of Pool A, and they could go even further. They've done it before.

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team USA

Max Scherzer was on the provisional roster, but on Monday, the Nationals announced that the right-handed ace will not be on the team because of a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.
However, big names can be found anywhere and everywhere on this depth chart. Looking for a Cy Young Award-winning, bona-fide ace? David Price (reportedly on Team USA's preliminary roster) fits the bill. At the plate, manager Jim Leyland will have the enviable decision over where to bat Arenado, Goldschmidt, Murphy, Stanton and Posey in the heart of the order -- though it's hard to imagine there's a wrong way for him to line them up.
How they fared in the past
It's hard to believe that Team USA has never played in a Classic final, especially considering the championship round was held on American soil in each of the first three tournaments. The U.S. has never finished higher than fourth, when it lost to Japan in the 2009 semifinals. The Americans fell in the second round of the inaugural 2006 tournament, and experienced the same result in the most recent '13 installment.
What they should do well
The five headline sluggers mentioned above represent only some of how much this lineup can mash. Elsewhere, Leyland will have the ability to mix and match right-handed bats like Kinsler, Jones and McCutchen with left-handed hitters Crawford, Hosmer and Yelich. There just doesn't appear to be an easy out.
The squad is just as deep on defense. Kinsler, who won a American League Gold Glove Award and tied Dustin Pedroia for the most defensive runs saved of any second baseman last season, is the least acclaimed defender of an infield that would include Arenado, Crawford, Goldschmidt and Hosmer on any given night. An outfield including Jones, McCutchen and Yelich is also solid, but it would become elite if Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- currently on the preliminary roster -- suit up in red, white and blue. And don't forget about Lucroy and Posey behind the plate.
Where they could struggle
With all the star power, it's hard to poke holes in Team USA's roster -- especially when more stars could still be added. Right now, the Americans boast right-handed starters in Archer and Stroman, but they could use a lefty ace to help balance the rotation. Price would go a long way toward achieving that balance, if he is indeed confirmed for Team USA's first-round roster. Furthermore, if teams are able to reset their pitching staffs for subsequent rounds of the tournament -- a rumored new rule change for the '17 Classic -- it's possible the U.S. could have some All-World lefty aces in the hole like Madison Bumgarner or Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings.
While picking up Miller was a huge boost for the bullpen, the back end of the staff -- which also currently includes Givens and Gregorson -- remains Team USA's biggest unknown. That need could be addressed by the time the final roster is announced.
How far they could go
At this point Team USA should be considered a co-favorite with the Dominican Republic -- the defending champions -- to take home the gold. There will be no shortage of other challengers; Japan has won the tournament twice, Puerto Rico will boast some of the brightest young infielders in baseball and Venezuela will be led by veteran stars like Jose AltuveMiguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Perhaps no team, however, will be able to match Team USA's wealth of talent on paper in all three phases of the game: Pitching, hitting and defense.

WBC 2017 preview: Breaking down Team DR

How they fared in the past
The D.R. will enter this year's Classic riding a lengthy win streak of sorts. In 2013, it became the first team in the brief Classic history to win the title with a perfect record -- it finished 8-0 with a plus-22 run differential -- as the first champion from the Western Hemisphere. Cano, who went 15-for-32 over that stretch, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
It hasn't been all outstanding for the Dominican Republic, though. In 2009, the Dominicans didn't make it out of pool play after dropping two major upsets to the Netherlands. In the inaugural World Baseball Classic in '06, the D.R. won five of its first six games to reach the championship round, but it finished fourth after losing in the semifinals to Cuba in a game in which Bartolo Colon pitched six scoreless innings.
What they should do well
There might not be a more defensively athletic bunch in this year's tournament than the D.R., which as of now owns 11 Gold Glove Awards, including five from Beltre, who returns after missing the past two Classics. With Beltre at third base, Machado figures to be the starting shortstop, the position at which he was drafted and where he played 45 games in 2016 for the Orioles. Also contributing will be the athletic Pirates pair of Polanco and Marte, who make up one of the Majors' best outfields.
The Dominicans also boast power, with five players who hit at least 30 homers in 2016 -- not including Sanchez, who blasted 20 in just 53 games last year, or veteran power source Bautista.
Where they could struggle
If the postseasons of late have proven anything, showcased most notably in 2016, an effective bullpen can be the catalyst for a championship run in a winner-take-all format.
As of now, Betances is the only reliever committed to the D.R., and the hard-hurling Yankees righty seemed to be bothered by fatigue at the end of the 2016 regular season, posting an 0-2 record with a blown save and 9.64 ERA in his final 11 outings. While Betances should be fresh come spring, he'll need strong bullpen complements, as D.R. general manager Moises Alou acknowledged at the Winter Meetings.
"We have the offensive weapons and the starting pitching," Alou said. "Hopefully, we can put together the best bullpen."
Other relievers who could join the D.R. include Jeurys Familia and Alex Colome.
How far they could go
With wealth of power and defensive versatility, the Dominicans have to be considered a heavy favorite to repeat; however, the field figures to be far more evenly competitive. Team USA figures to take a major step forward in contending for its first WBC title, and Puerto Rico boasts some of the best young infielders. Venezuela can't be overlooked with its veteran experience, and Japan has won two of the three titles.
If the Dominicans can complement their remarkable offense with strong pitching, they figure to make a deep run once more.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Colombia

With weeks left until final 28-man rosters must be submitted on Feb. 6, Colombia's current look remains vague. Only 12 active MLB players were born in Colombia, according to, meaning most of the roster will be assembled with players who lack big league experience.
Brothers Jhonatan Solano and Donovan Solano -- who are in the Marlins' and Yankees' farm systems, respectively, and have played at the MLB level -- could be additional options, having competed for Colombia in the 2013 WBC qualifier.
And if he returns after playing for Colombia last March, Twins prospect Reynaldo Rodriguez could be another viable bat. Rodriguez posted a 1.300 OPS over the three qualifier games, and Mexican League slugger Jesus Valdez, who also played in the qualifier, posted a .455 batting average in that stretch. However, neither has committed to this point.
How they fared in the past
Colombia has not only never played in the World Baseball Classic, it didn't enter until the 2013 tournament, when it was eliminated in the semifinals of the qualifying round.
In last spring's qualifier, the Colombians convincingly defeated Spain in the preliminaries, then Panama twice after Panama rebounded in the losers' bracket to play in the final. In that dramatic win, Reds prospect Dilson Herrera lasered a go-ahead solo home run in the eighth inning that just barely cleared the left-field foul pole, pushing Colombia to a 2-1 edge.
"When I saw my team and that situation, I have no word to describe [it]," Herrera said after the game. "I'm so happy and so excited for this opportunity."
While this will be Colombia's first World Baseball Classic, it does own two gold medals (1947, '65) in the since-disbanded Baseball World Cup.
What they should do well
Although Colombia has just two players on its current roster, it's an All-Star pair. Quintana and Teheran are among the craftier strikeout pitchers in the Majors, both ranking in the top 50 in strikeouts per nine innings among starters in 2016.
The two will anchor a rotation that remains in question, but should at least give Colombia a chance in its first two games in a daunting slate of Pool C, which also houses Canada, the favored United States and defending champion the Dominican Republic.
Where they could struggle
With what figures to be largely a very green group of players who've never reached the Majors, Colombia could struggle to keep pace against the likes of Chris Archer and other big league aces in Pool C.
If he rejoins the national team, Herrera would likely be among the only Colombian players to log at least 100 MLB at-bats, and in his two seasons with the Mets, he hit just .215 with a strikeout rate of 23.7 percent.
The Colombians will need all the bats they can get.
How far they could go
With the juggernauts that also reside in Pool C, Colombia could struggle to simply get out of the gate. Given its gaping needs on offense and a pitching rotation that is really just two-deep at a competitive level, manager Luis Urueta's club, ranked 19th in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings, faces a huge uphill climb.