By Annie Ross
The Phillies on Friday optioned catcher Jorge Alfaro to Double-A Reading and reassigned catcher Andrew Knapp to minor league camp.
But not for long!
Alfaro (above) is the No. 3 catching prospect in baseball and the No. 96 prospect overall. Knapp earned the Phils’ minor league player of the year award in 2015, and he is ranked No. 9 among the team’s prospects by MLBPipeline.com. Both need more time in the minor leagues before being ready to play in the big leagues.
Each catcher mentioned Carlos Ruiz’s tutelage as one of their more positive experiences in camp. Ruiz, who is in the final year of his contract, is playing with Panama this week in the World Baseball Classic qualifier.
“I took a lot from Chooch on the defensive side of stuff, like how to handle a pitching staff and how to get guys through innings, stuff like that,” Knapp said.
“I mean, every time I talk to Chooch, I’m always asking him, ‘How do you do this?'” Alfaro said. “He’s got a lot of experience, you know? It was awesome.”
Knapp hit .250 (4-for-16) with one double, one home run, four RBIs, four walks, three strikeouts and a .900 OPS in eight Grapefruit League games. Alfaro hit .294 (5-for-17) with two RBIs and a .588 OPS in six games.
“I felt pretty comfortable in the box all camp,” Knapp said. “That was a positive.”
Both are talented offensively. Phillies coaches raved about Alfaro’s raw power earlier in camp, with Mike Schmidt saying Alfaro’s build reminded him of former All-Star Dick Allen. But both catchers know they must improve defensively, too.
“You have to be a good defender behind the plate,” Alfaro said. “Hitting — I don’t really worry about too much, because I really want to be a good catcher. In the Minor Leagues, I want pitchers telling me they want me to catch them.”
Alfaro certainly has the tools to catch. After the Phils’ 15-12 Friday win, manager Pete Mackanin said that Alfaro “has the best arm I’ve seen, maybe ever.” One scout told Mackanin that he rated Alfaro’s arm an 80 on a 20-80 scale, which he said he had never done before.
Knapp said he wants to improve his game management.
“It’s situationally based,” Knapp responded when asked what Ruiz told him about game management. “You have first and third with a big hitter on deck, what are you going to do? Stuff like that, kind of how the game flows. When pitchers are struggling, how do you work with them to get through the inning? Stuff like that.”
Of course, the question for both catchers is how close they feel they are to the big leagues. Knapp is expected to open the season in Triple-A, while Alfaro is expected to start in Double-A, because he missed most of last season with an ankle injury.
If something should happen early this season to Ruiz or Cameron Rupp, veteran J.P. Arencibia is expected to get the call.
But later in the season, who knows? And if both eventually make it either this year or beyond? Each also has the ability to play either first base or the outfield.
“I always think that I want to be the best catcher wherever I play,” Alfaro said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Rookie league or Double-A. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the big leagues. It doesn’t matter where I play. I just want to be the best. I never think how close I am. I never worry about that. They make the decisions. I’ll just play hard wherever I go.”
And Alfaro will be asking plenty of questions along the way.
“I like to learn,” he said. “[Maikel] Franco, [Freddy] Galvis, Ruiz. I learned a lot from them. They helped my routine. They helped me a lot. They talked to me a lot. We always talk on the field, off the field. How to be professional, how to play the game, playing hard — they always talk to me like that, like what you have to do to come here and stay here.”
“It’s getting close,” Knapp said about a potential big league arrival. “This is baseball. A lot of things happen. Injuries happen. I just have to be ready for the call.”