Anthony Alford has been on the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospect lists for several years. That’s kind of a problem. You don’t want to be on those lists for too long. You want to be in the big leagues. Former Petal High star Alford turned 24 in July. The right-handed hitting outfielder, who has a total of 22 MLB at-bats, is currently at Triple-A Buffalo and not exactly tearing it up. In 83 games, he is batting .223 with five homers, 24 RBIs, 43 runs and 13 steals. The launch of his pro baseball career was delayed while he played college football, and he has endured a variety of injuries, including a setback this spring in big league camp. When MLB Pipeline updated its top 100 prospects chart last month, Alford dropped from No. 47 to No. 94. Other young outfielders have emerged in the Blue Jays’ system: Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith Jr., Dalton Pompey and Jonathan Davis. Alford is still on the 40-man roster, so one assumes he’ll get a call-up when rosters expand in September. He’ll need to show something.
Chris Coghlan started in left field on Monday, and the Ole Miss product must have felt a little out of place. The 33-year-old veteran of 801 big league games was joined in the outfield by two 19-year-olds. The shortstop in front of him was 18. The pitcher Coghlan faced in the bottom of the first inning was 19. Coghlan was in Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., suiting up for one of the Chicago Cubs’ two Arizona League teams, the lowest rung in the minors. How’d he get there? Coghlan was released last August by Toronto and was without a job until signing a minor league deal in late March with the Cubs, with whom he won a World Series ring in 2016. He had been sidelined with a shoulder injury until last week. He is on the Triple-A Iowa roster and is playing in the AZL on a rehab assignment. He went 0-for-3 with a walk on Monday and is at .250 with a double, a triple and an RBI in five games all told. The National League’s rookie of the year with Florida back in 2009, Coghlan hit just .200 in 36 games for Toronto in 2017. He is a .258 career hitter in the majors and can play multiple positions. It’ll be interesting to see if this new road leads back to the big leagues. P.S. Also in the AZL on a rehab assignment is ex-Ole Miss star Stuart Turner, who is batting .350 in six games for Cincinnati’s rookie team. Turner, 26, played 37 games in the big leagues last year as a Rule 5 draftee by the Reds. He lost his 40-man roster spot this spring and was sent to Triple-A Louisville, where the catcher played just 12 games before landing on the disabled list in early May.
If he could bottle it, he surely would. Anthony Alford flashed his remarkable potential on Friday night, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple, two runs and an RBI for Triple-A Buffalo in an 8-3 loss to Lehigh Valley. The performance earned the former Petal High star a mention on the Prospect Report segment of MLB Network’s Quick Pitch. But that kind of performance has been rare for Alford this season. He is batting just .217 with a homer, 10 RBIs and eight steals in 42 games for the Toronto affiliate. During a brief stint in the big leagues, the powerfully built outfielder hit .143. Alford has been one of Toronto’s top-rated prospects for several years but, due in part to myriad injuries, has been fighting to find consistency. That search is the key to advancement for every minor leaguer, the key to moving off the prospect chart and into a big league job. Former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley, a highly regarded Cleveland prospect, is scuffling in his second tour of Double-A ball. The lefty-hitting first baseman had a three-hit game for Akron on Thursday night that included his 12th homer. His power is not an issue; he now has 99 bombs in his five-year minor league career. Consistent contact is what he seeks; he is batting just .196. Former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, playing Double-A ball in just his second pro season, has been hot and cold for Minnesota’s Chattanooga club. He struggled much of the first two months, found a groove at the start of June, then fell into another funk. He has hit just .211 in his last 10 games — and is at .263 for the season — but did begin the second half on Thursday with a home run, No. 10 on the year. Sometimes, it’s just tough luck that stalls a prospect’s upward mobility. Ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley was playing well at Triple-A Gwinnett after his promotion from Mississippi, hitting .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 26 games for the Stripers. But Atlanta’s third baseman of the future suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since June 3. It’s unclear when he might get back on track.
The first round of the 2012 MLB draft was a fruitful one. Carlos Correa went No. 1, followed by Byron Buxton and Mike Zunino. The crop also includes Corey Seager, Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha, Addison Russell, Albert Almora, Lucas Giolito and Mississippi State alum Chris Stratton, all established big leaguers in 2018. The 17th overall pick, a bit of a surprise at the time by Toronto, was Stone County High outfielder D.J. Davis. Six years later, Davis is in his “junior year” at Class A Dunedin, tackling the high Class A Florida State League for a third time. A strong finish in 2017, which Davis sorely needed, has not carried over to 2018. The left-handed hitter is batting .228 with two homers, five RBIs and two steals in 34 games. Last year, he wound up at .258 with two homers, 33 RBIs, 57 runs and 32 bags. Davis tumbled off the prospect charts a couple years ago, but he is still only 23 years old. And the Blue Jays have invested a lot of money in him. It’d be great to see Davis get it going this summer, but you wonder if he still has the confidence to do so.
Something is clicking for Conor Fisk. The right-hander out of Southern Miss has worked 13 games this season without allowing an earned run. He pitched three innings for Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday, yielding three hits and no walks in the Bisons’ 7-3 victory against Columbus. A 24th-round pick by Toronto in 2014, Fisk isn’t listed among the Blue Jays’ top 30 prospects on mlb.com, nor is he on the 40-man roster, but surely he has gained some attention this season. He made seven appearances at Double-A New Hampshire, allowing just a single unearned run, before getting a promotion to Buffalo, where he has six straight scoreless outings covering 14 1/3 innings. He has a 0.70 WHIP (which is really good). Fisk, 26, has bounced between starting and relieving during his five years in the minors. He was primarily a starter at Class A Dunedin in 2017 and went 8-11 with a 3.84 ERA. The Blue Jays moved him to the bullpen this year in the Double-A Eastern League. He had two saves in two chances for New Hampshire; he hasn’t been used in a save situation at Buffalo. … Also on the Bisons’ roster is former Petal High star – and onetime USM quarterback – Anthony Alford, who is batting just .169 with no homers in 23 games. The highly rated — and injury-prone — prospect has had cups of coffee in the big leagues the last two years.
Former Southern Miss ace Scott Copeland reportedly has been called to the big leagues by the injury-ravaged New York Mets. Copeland, 30, last appeared in an MLB game in 2015 with Toronto. Signed to a minor league contract out of an independent league in mid-April, Copeland is 4-0 with a 3.81 ERA between Triple-A and Double-A in the Mets’ system. He was a 21st-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2010 after going 11-1 for a C-USA championship team as a senior in Hattiesburg. Copeland, who has 182 minor league appearances on his resume, pitched in five games for the Blue Jays in 2015, going 1-1, 6.46. When he appears in a game for the Mets, he’ll become the 23rd Mississippian (native or college alum) to play in the big leagues this season.
It’s a small sample size but still worth noting: Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is batting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 11 RBIs through his first 10 games in Triple-A. He has hit safely in eight of those games, including a four-hit, three-homer performance on Sunday, and has yet to make an error at third base. He also has two hat tricks (three-strikeout games) for Gwinnett. “It’s all about adjustments,” Riley told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Each level you move up, the pitchers get better. You never stop learning in this game.” Riley, one of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, batted .333 with six homers in 27 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before his promotion. At 21, Riley is the same age as Ozzie Albies and a year older than Ronald Acuna, who are leading the “Baby Braves” contingent that has helped revitalize the big league club. Most projections have Riley making the majors in 2019, but he could force the Braves’ hand this summer. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson is also in Triple-A and knocking on the MLB door. St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, right-hander Hudson is 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in seven starts for Memphis. He is rated the Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … Hunter Renfroe, the State alum who is hoping to get back to the big leagues, went 1-for-5 with an RBI double and three K’s Thursday in his first game after being sent to Triple-A El Paso. Renfroe was batting .200 with two homers for San Diego when he went on the disabled list in mid-April. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, sent down by Toronto earlier this week, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts at Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. … Also itching for another shot in The Show is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, who has a 1.50 ERA, two saves and 26 punchouts in 18 innings for Triple-A Nashville in Oakland’s system. Wahl made seven appearances for the A’s last year before suffering a shoulder injury. He was dropped from the 40-man roster in the fall. … Braxton Lee, the ex-UM standout from Picayune who started this season in the majors with Miami, is currently on the DL at Triple-A New Orleans. He hit .176 in eight MLB games and is at .186 in 12 games for the Baby Cakes. … Ole Miss alum and onetime big leaguer Alex Presley, who had been at Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system, has been granted his release and is now a free agent.