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Alfaro makes grand entrance to spring with slam

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has said the "meat and potatoes" for a catcher is his work behind the plate.

Can he call a game? Can he frame a pitch? Can he throw out a runner or block a ball in the dirt?

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has said the "meat and potatoes" for a catcher is his work behind the plate.

Can he call a game? Can he frame a pitch? Can he throw out a runner or block a ball in the dirt?

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

These things are important to Jorge Alfaro, but performance at the plate also matters. He went 2-for-2 with a grand slam and an eight-pitch walk in Saturday's 9-6 victory over the Orioles in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field.

"It feels awesome," Alfaro said. "I wasn't thinking about the count. I wasn't thinking of anything. I was just trying to put the ball in play, hit the ball to the middle and try to get the guys in. I just got a little bit in front and let the ball do the rest."

If Alfaro hits this season, the 24-year-old certainly can make up for any defensive shortcomings. The Phillies' No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, hit .318 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and an .874 OPS in 114 big league plate appearances last season. Alfaro carried over last year's strong approach when he worked a first-inning walk before homering on a 3-0 pitch in the second.

"When his spot came up the next time around he had seen a ton of pitches and was prepared for that 3-0 moment," Kapler said. "There was no question in anybody's mind that the right play was to try and let him drive the ball to the middle of the field and [he] got a pitch he liked and drove it out of the ballpark. It was a pretty awesome story."

So why let him swing 3-0 there?

"We just believe in our guys, plain and simple," Kapler said. "But most importantly we play for the big innings. We have a ton of confidence in Alfaro and his decision making. Really glad he picked out a pitch he liked and jumped on it."

Video: BAL@PHI: Alfaro, Kapler on grand slam, having fun

Kapler said the Phillies could be aggressive in similar situations throughout the season.

Alfaro is a lock to make the Opening Day roster because he is out of options. But can he make enough improvements defensively and maintain the success he enjoyed offensively and become a front-line catcher in 2018?

Video: Mayo on Phillies prospect Alfaro's ROY case

It will be a great challenge this season.

"I was working on that in the offseason," Alfaro said about his defense. "I was trying to get better. I feel better behind the plate and I feel better hitting. I just want to keep working and keep learning from everybody here."

Kapler said he believes Alfaro already has improved defensively.

"His receiving has already gotten a ton better," Kapler said. "He's really focusing his attention on being prepared for every pitch. You don't just see it out in the game. You see it in his bullpen sessions, so his practice sessions have been vastly improved.

"We're going to keep working with him. He's got a ways to go, but so does everybody. He's absolutely prepared to be our catcher in Philadelphia."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jorge Alfaro