Well here’s a bit of good news for Jays fans on the day, with the Royals set to host the A’s in the Wild Card play-in game, that they officially assume the title of longest playoff drought in baseball: the team is getting Anthony Alford full time.
From Ole Miss 24-7:
Ole Miss safety Anthony Alford has left the Ole Miss football team to focus on his professional baseball career.
The departure was announced by Ole Miss on Tuesday.
Alford, a sophomore, had played in every game for Ole Miss this season as a reserve safety and punt returner. He was credited with six tackles and two punt returns for eight yards.
The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger adds that “Alford took snaps at quarterback during training camp and was a potential change-of-pace option, but did not see the field on offense.”
In a way it’s a shame for Alford, whose football adventure took him from being a two-sport star in high school, to quarterback as a freshman at Southern Miss, to a disastrous season there, the firing of the school’s head coach, a weapons charge (later dropped), then a transfer, and a redshirt year, which finally led him to being a member of Ole Miss’s defence and special teams unit. It says a lot about the belief that he has in his own abilities and his love for the gridiron, and I don’t know if it’s fair of us to say what’s the right or wrong decision for his life. But he certainly has done himself a favour, financially and in terms of his development in the sport where he has a genuine chance to develop into something really special at the highest level.
He “had first round ability,” tweeted Keith Law this afternoon, once the news had broken, and the only reason that he slid to the Jays in the third round in 2012 was that he had such a strong commitment to playing football that other teams were scared off. In order to get him into the organization, the Jays paid him $750,000 and structured their deal with him to allow him to put football first.
Baseball hasn’t even been a close second. Over the three seasons since he turned pro on the diamond he’s accumulated just 110 plate appearances — 60 this year between Bluefield and Lansing, and 50 over the previous two seasons for the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. That lost development time is going to be a tough hurdle for him to overcome, but obviously the Jays feel the talent is still there. In fact, back in early August, Alford told reporters that Alex Anthopoulos paid him a visit at the end of his baseball season this year, and “put some deals on the table and made it difficult for me.”
One of those deals was for five years, but surely would have required he put his focus to baseball full-time. Alford, who turned 20 in July, wasn’t ready for that then, but evidently has seen what an opportunity he has been passing up, and changed his tune from when he said at the time that “Football was my first love and even if I made $100 million dollars down the road in baseball, I’d still regret not giving football a shot.”
I wrote this then about the small sample we’d seen of his baseball talents this year:
In Bluefield this year, Alford made just 35 plate appearances, striking out in 37.1% of those, but posting a .343 on-base, despite just a .207 batting average, thanks to five walks he took during that span. Up a level at Lansing he was even better, in an even smaller sample of 25 plate appearances. For the Lugnuts he posted a 126 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in a league where the average hitter is 2.5 years older. He did so not by walking, but with eight hits in those 25 PA, including a double, a home run, and four stolen bases (with no caught stealings) to boot.
His biggest issue is, of course, reps — something Marc Hulet made clear when writing about him at FanGraphs this summer. Surely he’ll soon be bound for winter ball of some sort (I suspect the Arizona Fall League is too advanced to throw him into), with the object being to make up for as much lost development time as possible.
It’s still going to take a while before we know whether all that lost time can be made up for and Alford can capitalize on all the natural talent he possesses, but today, more than two years removed from when he was selected, the Jays are finally getting a real injection of talent into their system. It’s great news. He’ll be one to watch in 2015.