CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have invested countless hours of instruction, manpower and technology into Jorge Alfaro’s improvement as a catcher. It’s beginning to show.
“He’s much improved from September,” said Larry Bowa, who doesn’t miss a thing from the top step of the dugout.
“Light years,” said Dusty Wathan, describing Alfaro’s improvement from the time he joined the Phillies organization in 2015 as part of the return from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade.
The Phillies are handing over the bulk of their catching duties to Alfaro this season. He’s 24 and out of minor-league options. It’s time to see what he can do with a significant look at the big-league level.
Alfaro spent some time in the majors in 2016 and 2017 and his defense left much to be desired. He decided to do something about it over the winter. The man they call El Oso – The Bear – went home to Colombia and trimmed 12 pounds off his rugged frame. He reported at 238 pounds. A lighter load has left him quicker and little more agile behind the plate. He looked quick and agile when he gunned down Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier trying to steal second in the first inning Saturday.
“An elite, elite arm,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
Alfaro explained his weight loss: “I knew there was an opportunity and I wanted to prepare myself to compete for that job. Nothing is guaranteed. Even if you are out of options they can take you off the 40-man roster.”
Alfaro grew up playing shortstop and outfield. He was also a soccer standout. In hopes of getting more baseball exposure, he went to live with an aunt in the Dominican Republic when he was 16. The scouts saw his bazooka arm and moved him to catcher. He’s still basically learning the position.
“He’s not a finished product,” said Wathan, a former catcher who managed Alfaro in the minors and is now part of a team of big-league coaches that works with the catchers in the majors. There’s another group of the player-development side that has helped Alfaro, as well. “There’s more room for improvement. He’s got all the tools you’d want and he’s starting to use them.”
Alfaro’s footwork on his release to second base has become smoother. His receiving hand appears to be softer and more still than in the past. The Phillies are putting a premium on catchers’ keeping the ball in the strike zone. Every day, catchers work on framing pitches fired from a pitching machine. Video is used for feedback and teaching.
“It’s about getting strikes for your pitcher,” Wathan said. “Jorge has worked hard on keeping balls on the edge in the zone, especially low pitches.”
The Phillies knew about Alfaro long before they traded for him. They offered him $1 million when he was a 16-year-old amateur. He instead signed with Texas for $1.3 million. The Phils pegged Alfaro as their catcher of the future when they traded for him.
The future is here.