The future is here for promising Alfaro

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The future is here for promising Alfaro

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.

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

The absolute filth. What Jake Arrieta did Monday had his fellow Major Leaguers going crazy on social media.

In his final start of the spring, Arrieta sure looked ready for his season debut on Sunday. He went six strong, allowing two earned with eight strikeouts. However, it was how he racked up the K’s that had his colleagues fawning on social media.

First, this disgusting free and easy 92 out of Arrieta’s right hand that falls away from the right-handed hitter.

Fellow MLBers Marcus Stroman and Lance McCullers could not get enough.

Next, this 88 mph change, which falls off the table, had other pros wondering how they could harness the same sorcery.

Arrieta, a World Series champ and Cy Young winner, was solid but not spectacular in his first season with the Phillies, but he’s still got the same fire and ability that saw him win 22 games and post a 1.77 ERA in 2015. In fact, our Corey Seidman wrote about why Phillies fans can expect more from Arietta this season (see story).

A veteran presence in the clubhouse and a force on the mound, he’ll certainly be one to watch this season as the Phillies make a push for the playoffs.

We know it’s more than just Phillies fans watching, too.

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Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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