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What to expect from Blue Jays' Alford in big leagues

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

The Toronto Blue Jays recalled Anthony Alford from Triple-A Buffalo ahead of the club's road contest against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Alford, the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect (No. 45 overall), received his first taste of the Majors nearly a year ago, earning a call-up on May 19. His time in the big leagues was short lived, however, as Alford appeared in four games -- going 1-for-8 with a double -- before suffering a broken hamate in his left hand and then spending the rest of the season in the Minors.

The Toronto Blue Jays recalled Anthony Alford from Triple-A Buffalo ahead of the club's road contest against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Alford, the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect (No. 45 overall), received his first taste of the Majors nearly a year ago, earning a call-up on May 19. His time in the big leagues was short lived, however, as Alford appeared in four games -- going 1-for-8 with a double -- before suffering a broken hamate in his left hand and then spending the rest of the season in the Minors.

The injury bug has already plagued Alford in 2018, too, as the 23-year-old outfielder began the year on the disabled list as the result of a right hamstring strain suffered during Spring Training. After a brief rehab stint in the Florida State League, Alford was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo and batted .154/.214/.179 through 10 games there at the time of his promotion.

Alford was regarded by scouts as one of the premier athletes in the 2012 Draft, and he likely would have been selected in the first round if not for his commitment to play quarterback at Southern Mississippi. The Blue Jays, undeterred by Alford's situation, took the Petal, Miss., native in the third round and signed him with a $750,000 bonus.

With a potential career in baseball to fall back on, Alford spent much of the next three years focused on football. He struggled to progress on the gridiron, though, staying just one season at Southern Mississippi before transferring to Mississippi and becoming a defensive back. All that changed in the fall of 2014, when Alford, who had logged just 25 Minor Leagues games in three years since signing, announced that he was leaving Ole Miss early to pursue baseball full time.

After totaling 110 plate appearances from 2012-14, Alford's transition back to the diamond went remarkably smoothly. In 2015, his first full season in the Minors, he batted .298/.398/.421 with 36 extra-base hits, 27 steals and 67 walks in 107 games between two Class A levels.

But Alford was unable to build on his breakout performance the following year, as a knee injury on Opening Day and a concussion in June cost him much of the first half of the season with Class A Advanced Dunedin. Though he righted the ship at the midseason mark to hit .257/.381/.449 with eight home runs and 13 steals over his final 59 contests, Alford still finished his season with an underwhelming .236/.344/.378 slash line in 92 games.

That big second half carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where Alford posted a .789 OPS with three home runs, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 23 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. After the AFL's completion, the Blue Jays added him to their 40-man roster.

In terms of physical ability, there are few prospects who can match Alford's dynamic set of tools.

A right-handed hitter, Alford's combination of bat speed and strength enables him to make consistent hard contact. The plus raw power he's shown during batting practice has started to translate to games, and he proved during the Arizona Fall League that he's capable of hitting tape-measure shots to the deepest parts of the field. Scouts, meanwhile, believe that Alford will develop even more thump with additional experience.

Video: Anthony Alford crushes a solo homer

After showing increasing strikeout tendencies during his first two full seasons, Alford lowered his strikeout rate to a vastly improved 17.5 percent in 2017, thanks largely to an improved setup in the batter's box and a better starting point for his hands. And although he's struggled to make consistent contact this season following his slow start -- striking out at a 37.5-percent clip in 64 plate appearances with the Bisons, Alford continues to show strong on-base skills, evidenced by his .370 OBP and 12.5 percent walk rate in 317 career games.

Alford's plus-plus speed is his loudest tool, one that receives 70 grades from scouts (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and it enables him to impact games both on the base paths and in center field, where he projects as a plus defender with good range. He also possesses enough arm strength for left field. Alford has seen time at all three outfield positions this season in the International League, with a majority of his reps coming in center.

The Blue Jays called up Alford in part to hedge against the possibility of the club having to add Curtis Granderson to the disabled list after the veteran outfielder departed Friday's game with a tight right hamstring. Toronto was already without outfielders Steve Pearce and Randal Grichuk, both of whom remain sidelined with injuries.

Time will tell how much playing Alford receives in the absence of the aforementioned players, and the same thought applies to Alford's future once they all return to health.

Whether it's now, later this season or sometime beyond, the Blue Jays believe that Alford will be a contributor for the organization at the highest level. He's sure to go through some growing pains, like any younger player, but there's little doubt that Alford has the athleticism, tools and maturity to be a long-term impact player.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays