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Blue Jays’ ‘man of tomorrow’ Anthony Alford ready for next step

Blue Jays’ ‘man of tomorrow’ Anthony Alford ready for next step

Posted by PanamericanWorld on April 04, 2016

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough for Anthony Alford.

Alford is the Toronto Blue Jays‘ centre fielder of tomorrow. He’s their leadoff man of tomorrow. He’s bound to be the topic of conversation tomorrow.

Organizations vow to practise patience with prospects, and prospects buy into the idea to varying degrees. Anthony Alford clocks in at about two or three degrees on a scale.

Sound out GMs and others in the front office and they’ll give you a line about 1,000 plate appearances in the minors being the optimum benchmark for the development of a major-league hitter.

Sound out Alford and you won’t have to listen hard to come away with a sense that he doesn’t buy it.

“Why 1,000?” the 21-year-old asks. “Other guys have made it to the majors without 1,000 at bats. Some didn’t even play in the minors at all. They went straight to the majors. Why not me? We just get so caught up in numbers. I don’t agree with it. You go with whoever is going to help you win.”

On examination of those who did take the fastest tracks to the majors and succeeded you’ll find prodigious talents, all-stars and Hall of Famers. Dave Winfield went straight from college to the majors. Ditto John Olerud. Robin Yount went improbably from high school to the majors. These days it’s Bryce Harper, whose stint in the minors was so brief that it seemed beside the point.

Alford thinks of himself in those terms. This isn’t to say that he’s going to be an unhappy camper this season. This isn’t a case of a young player who will pop up during the last news cycle before Opening Day, popping off about the unfairness of his assignment to the minors to New Hampshire or Buffalo. He won’t spout off about having done enough in the major-league camp and exhibition games to stick with the big club. Beat writers won’t be typing “b-r-i-s-t-l-e-d” next to his name. No, Alford is the furthest thing from a malcontent.

Still, two things are true. One: He’s in a hurry to make it. Two: He believes he can make it in a hurry.

The Jays drafted Alford out of a Mississippi high school in the third round in 2012, but he had a higher profile than that slot would suggest. A $750,000 signing bonus, more than $300,000 over his slot value, was a sure sign that he wasn’t just another third-rounder.

Alford was likely the best pure athlete in that draft and if you count spring-training games he’s the best pure athlete to have donned a Jays uniform. In high school Alford was named the top Mississippi high school player in both football and baseball, the first athlete to ever bring home both honours. That’s remarkable in and of itself but even more so when you consider that Bo Jackson didn’t pull it off in the neighbouring state of Alabama. You can bet that Jackson ran for at least 220 yards in one game as Alford did—but, then again, Alford was a quarterback.

It’s likely that Alford was available in the third round of the MLB draft because of his divided attentions to the respective games.

In fact, it seemed that those attentions weren’t evenly divided. He had been recruited by major colleges to play football, including Alabama and LSU. He wound up staying close to home, committing to Southern Mississippi, where he thought it would be easier to play both football and baseball. A lot of MLB teams didn’t want to invest in a teenager, who if you listened to him couldn’t conceal that football was his first love. Even today if you ask him he’ll tell you that the athlete he admires and considers a role model is Ray Lewis, which is hard to process because Alford might be as quiet and soft-spoken as Lewis was bold and outspoken.

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