Feature Photo: Brian Anderson, 3B, Marlins
I’ve been focusing my time at the fields on the Mesa Solar Sox for the first half of the AFL season, and this week I take a look at three position players from the Solar Sox who have stood out in early action – Anthony Alford (OF, Blue Jays), Franklin Barreto (SS, Athletics), and Brian Anderson (3B, Marlins) – each of whom are showing their potential as all-around players who can impact the game on both offense and defense.
The first thing that stands out about Alford is his strong frame and eye-popping athleticism – particularly his double-plus speed – but he also shows some surprisingly advanced skills and feel for someone who spent much of his high school years on the gridiron. He even spent one year as a quarterback at Southern Mississippi, but the third-round pick eventually quit football to focus his talents on the baseball diamond. I think that will turn out to be a wise decision.
Alford is a disciplined hitter who recognizes pitches well. He’ll work deep counts, which has led to high walk rates, but also some high strikeout numbers. His hands are quick but they tend to drift and he’ll sometimes push the ball the opposite way, but I think that’s something that can be easily remedied. Alford has the strength and bat speed to make consistent hard contact, which should translate to at least average home run power down the road, though his swing plane is more conducive to line drives and gap power.
Defensively, Alford has more than enough speed to stick in center field, where he has shown tremendous range when healthy. Like a lot of ex-football players with a muscular build, the arm strength isn’t quite where you’d like it to be. I’d call it fringe average at this point, but his athleticism should make him a plus defender in the outfield overall.
Alford has missed some time due to injuries, including two trips to the disabled list in 2016. He had just over 400 PAs in 92 games last year so he is down here, in part, to get more reps on the field and at the plate.
One other thing that stands out when you talk to scouts is Alford’s makeup, which some describe as off the charts, making it more likely that he will get the most out of his impressive physical tool set.
Alford projects as a top-of-the-order hitter whose combination of natural hitting skills and plate discipline should allow him to put up strong OBP numbers. I think he’ll also develop average power in time. That combination, along with his excellent speed, should make for a dynamic offensive player who should provide plus defense in center field. It all adds up to an exciting all-around player with all-star potential. (Video Credit: Alec Dopp)
Barreto was acquired by Oakland as part of the deal that sent 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to Toronto on November 28, 2014. Barreto has long been on scouts’ radar, starring in the PanAm Games as a youth, and eventually signing for $1.45 million with the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2013.
As you would probably expect from a player who has competed at high levels of competition from an early age, Barreto is a pretty polished player across the board, but the tool that stands out most to me is his bat. He has a knack for barreling up the baseball and should hit for average. On top of that, Barreto is a quick-twitch athlete who has explosive hands and good bat speed. He also has very good balance, showing excellent weight transfer on his swing that should allow him to generate league average power, which would be a bonus coming from a 5’10”, 190-ound shortstop. His above-average raw speed should mean a lot of extra base hits when coupled with his ability to drive the baseball from gap-to-gap.
As far as approach is concerned, Barreto’s is an aggressive one. He is up there to swing the bat and put the ball in play. Much of his OBP will likely stem from his ability to hit for average, so his combination of contact ability, pop, and speed will make him a fun player to watch on offense.
Defensively, Barreto has the tools and athleticism to stick at shortstop. The arm is strong and the range will certainly play, but thus far he has been erratic in the field. He’s made some errors on routine plays and like many young infielders, seems to have some trouble adapting to the speed of the game on defense. What I look for most in a shortstop is his footwork and how he flows through the baseball on grounders and in this respect, Barreto is solid but not special. That said, there’s enough raw talent there to stick at shortstop and project to be at least average at the position. If he does not stick, he certainly has enough bat to slide over to second base, though I see no reason not to keep him at shortstop for as long as possible, where his offense would be a huge asset. (Video Credit: Alec Dopp)
Anderson has good athleticism that shows up most consistently in his defensive play. He’s an above-average defender with good range, reliable hands, and a strong arm. He’s versatile enough to have also played some second base and outfield, which increases his chances of making the major leagues as a utility player if the bat doesn’t fully come around.
That said, Anderson has shown some promise at the plate. He appears to have added some strength, and while those long levers sometimes make it hard for him to keep his swing in sync on a consistent basis, it translates to good leverage and impressive raw power when it all comes together. It’s something we see pretty consistently in BP, but it has also shown up in games here in Arizona. Anderson hit one of the longest home runs I have seen so far this year, hitting one well out beyond the left-center field wall, deep on to the berm and landing near the light fixture just in front of the concourse. Almost as impressive was a pitch where he was a bit early, had to adjust, and swinging off his front foot, he still shot it over the head of the left fielder for a double.
It’s that power potential combined with plus defensive skills that makes him enticing as a potential starting third baseman down the road. I am not sure Anderson will ever hit for high average, as the swing can occasionally get long, but he does show good pitch recognition and, at times, the discipline to lay off pitches outside the zone. Should that patience become more consistent, it will help him draw some walks to supplement his OBP but, just as importantly, it can help him tap into that raw power by allowing him to wait for those pitches that he can drive. Anderson does show good feel for the barrel, and I think it’s just a matter of him gaining consistency with his approach and his swing. If he can do that, then I don’t see any reason why he can’t provide 20-home run power with strong defense at the hot corner, and while he won’t steal bases, Anderson does have enough speed to be an asset once he gets on. That kind of player should be able to work his way into a starting lineup, but if not, Anderson’s athleticism, raw power, and versatility may make him a useful bench player if he does not reach his ceiling.