New Buc Alford: 'I can be great at this level'

September 3rd, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Seven days passed between the time was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays and claimed off waivers by the Pirates. The 26-year-old outfielder didn’t hesitate to say it was “the longest week of my life, just waiting on the phone call.”

But the call came from Pirates general manager Ben Cherington on Aug. 27. Not only was Alford getting an opportunity to play, he was reunited with a front office and a manager who knew him from their shared time in Toronto. Five days later, Alford joined the Pirates. Wednesday night, he singled and homered in his first start for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates are going to take a long look at Alford, a former football player and once a top prospect in the Jays’ system, over the final month of the season. He’s just grateful for the chance to play.

“Honestly, I was hoping that it was a team, like, where I would get some opportunities, instead of going to another team where I would be in a similar situation where their outfield is kind of set,” Alford said Wednesday. “I’m glad I ended up here.”

The Blue Jays believed in Alford’s untapped upside and reputation as a good teammate, but they barely gave him a chance to show it in the Majors as he accumulated only 75 plate appearances in 46 games for Toronto. With more consistent playing time, Alford thinks he can tap into the skills that made him a highly regarded young outfielder.

“I know I can be a great player at this level. It’s just a matter of getting here and playing on a regular basis and showing it, just believing in myself,” Alford said. “I believe I can be great at this level, do the same thing here that I’ve done anywhere else. It’s just a matter of having an opportunity to show it.”

After starting in left field on Wednesday, Alford got the nod in center on Thursday. Manager Derek Shelton said Alford will play all three outfield spots, and his ability to do so will help him get more playing time down the stretch.

Alford said hitting coach Rick Eckstein already broke down film of him at the plate, studying his swing over the last five years. Eckstein has encouraged Alford to get back to what he did in 2017, when he slashed .299/.390/.406 over 77 games in the Minors.

It really comes down to me not doing too much -- believing in my work, the work that I’m doing, and letting it carry over onto the field,” Alford said. “Just based off of certain pitches, making sure I have the right approach at the plate. That’s the key, I feel.”

Around the horn

• The Pirates added right-hander Quinn Priester -- their first-round Draft pick in 2019 and No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- to their 60-man player pool for the remainder of the season. That will allow Priester, 19, to work out at the club’s alternate training site at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona, Pa. Priester made his professional debut last season and put together a 3.19 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in nine outings (eight starts) for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates and Short-Season Class A West Virginia.

• On Wednesday night, Colin Moran blasted a 450-foot homer that bounced into the Allegheny River. Moran’s seventh home run of the season, the longest of his career and the Pirates’ longest this year came with an exit velocity of 110.8 mph, according to Statcast. In his first three games back from the seven-day concussion injured list, Moran went 3-for-10 with a double, a homer and three walks.

“It's good to see him having good, aggressive swings,” Shelton said. “You have concerns when guys come up with concussions, where they're going to be and how they're going to be. But yeah, he’s been consistent.”

• Right-handers Mitch Keller (strained left oblique) and Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) had their scheduled batting-practice sessions pushed back to Friday due to rain Thursday morning.

• With a day game Thursday after a rain-delayed Wednesday night game, which followed his 11-inning Major League debut on Tuesday, Ke’Bryan Hayes was out of the lineup against Cubs right-hander Alec Mills for the series finale. JT Riddle got the start at third base. Hayes went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Wednesday night.

“I think he was a little heavy in the legs, honestly. I don’t think he’ll admit that,” Shelton said. “I realize he’s come up here with the hype. I’m excited to have him on the field as much as anybody. But we have to be thoughtful of his body, just because … he’s coming from a place [at the alternate training site] where they don’t have consistent innings every day.”

• Veteran lefty Derek Holland took the mound on Wednesday night wearing specially made cleats featuring the likeness of Fred Rogers and the words “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Holland also warmed up to the theme song to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

“If anybody's going to come out to Mr. Rogers, it's going to be Holland,” Shelton said. “I think there's so much history and so much culture here you want to embrace. You want to be part of what's going on in Pittsburgh, so I think it's really cool."