The Philadelphia Phillies backstop conundrum

The Philadelphia Phillies have a good problem on their hands. In an era that elite catchers seem to be wearing thin, the Phillies have two of the premier catching prospects in the game. This past season, they purposely left Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro at two different levels of the minor leagues. Now, both appear ready for big league stardom.

So what’s next for the Phillies behind the plate?

Alfaro is the 23-year-old right-handed hitting catcher that the Phillies demanded be included in last season’s Cole Hamels trade deadline blockbuster. Just to emphasize how much the Phillies saw in Alfaro, he was injured at the time of the trade, and had been out since mid-June dealing with an ankle issue. Still, the Phillies felt if Alfaro wasn’t involved in the deal, then it simply wasn’t worth it.

The problem with Alfaro wasn’t if he had the talent to succeed, it was when he was going to refine his raw skill set into becoming the top-ranked catching prospect many envisioned. A

lfaro was signed out of Colombia in 2010 because of his power ability, both with the bat and in his arm behind the plate. They inked the then-17-year-old to a $1.3-million bonus, a record for a Colombian free agent.

He spent the early part of his career belting home runs, but showed little plate discipline. Heading into this season, Alfaro had struck out 492 times and walked a mere 95 times in return, and this affected his power numbers as well. Unable to lay off breaking stuff, he wasn’t given the pitches to hit home runs, and the catcher with the 60-grade power never hit more than 17 in a season.

He was also sloppy behind the plate, seemingly almost distracted. His cannon of an arm had only thrown out 26.7 percent of runners heading into 2016. Not only was he error prone, but he allowed too many passed balls, topping out at 23 in 2014. While many a young catcher has struggled with passed balls, it is something that improves two or three years into their career. Alfaro, however, still struggled.

2016 was a different story behind the plate, yet more of the same at it. Kept in Double-A for the majority of the season, minus a late season call up, he hit an impressive .285, but posted a mere .325 on-base percentage behind an unbalanced strikeout-to-walk ratio of 105-to-22. He did belt 21 more doubles to go along with 13 home runs.

Behind the plate, however, Alfaro became the catcher most knew he could be. He flashed not just the strength of his arm, but the deadly accuracy of it, throwing out a career best 44 percent of attempted base runners. He cut the passed balls down to seven, while posting the best fielding percentage of his career at .993, and appears to have settled in as a catcher quite comfortably with an impressive career 8.46 range factor.

Meanwhile, in Triple-A, Knapp had a somewhat disappointing season, but that was simply due to a slow start coming off a phenomenal 2015 breakout year. The 24-year-old switch-hitting backstop also seems ready for his big league debut.

For more on Knapp and the Phillies ‘problem’,  head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full feature by clicking on the link below:

Conundrum in the City of Brotherly Love: Jorge Alfaro or Andrew Knapp?

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