Most projections don’t have Anthony Alford making Toronto’s opening day roster. The former Mr. Baseball is doing his best to change that. Alford hit his fourth home run of the spring on Saturday, his third in two days. He is batting .286 with seven RBIs and two steals, including one he got Saturday. Though his rank on the Blue Jays’ prospect charts has tumbled, the 24-year-old outfielder still possesses tantalizing five-tool talent and, apparently, the right mindset. “I’ve always had people doubt me,” Alford told The Toronto Star early this month. “Saying, ‘Oh, he can’t make it out of here,’ because nobody makes it out of where I came from.” The Columbia native and Petal High product overcame some obstacles in his early life before sports opened doors for him. He played football at Southern Miss and Ole Miss before opting to pursue a pro baseball career. He spent most of 2018 — his fourth season since fully committing to baseball — in Triple-A. Alford has shown flashes of finding it in the minors, batting .265 with 26 homers and 92 steals over 413 games, but has managed to get only 27 MLB at-bats. It would seem that something needs to happen this year.
Among the many Martin Luther King Jr. celebration activities in Mississippi is the Mississippi Dream Weekend, founded by major league veteran Curtis Granderson in partnership with the MLBPA-MLB Youth Development Foundation’s Players Going Home program. Children from across the state will participate in three camps that will center on baseball while also honoring the legacy of King, “who paved the way for people of all backgrounds to break barriers and turn their dreams into realities.” Former big leaguer Fred Lewis, who grew up in Wiggins and played at Stone High, will host a camp in Perkinston on Saturday and current Toronto outfielder Anthony Alford, a former Petal High star, will host one in Columbia on Sunday. The camp at Jackson State on Monday will be hosted by Granderson, who talked about the camps on MLB Network’s Hot Stove today. What, you may be wondering, is Granderson’s Mississippi connection? Well, a bit of research finds that his father, Curtis Sr., was born in Tchula and attended Coahoma Junior College and Mississippi Valley State.
Undrafted out of Ole Miss, where he was a solid if unspectacular pitcher for three years, Jacob Waguespack now finds himself on a major league 40-man roster. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander was added to Toronto’s protected roster on Tuesday and will go to the team’s big league camp for spring training. He might even contend for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Waguespack, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2015, was traded to Toronto last summer for Aaron Loup. His numbers at Triple-A Buffalo weren’t great — 2-4, 5.03 ERA — but the Jays apparently are impressed with his stuff. Over his four years in pro ball, during which he has worked as both a reliever and starter, Waguespack is 19-20 with a 3.84 ERA. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 40 games over three years in Oxford. … In other recent roster moves, former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley was added to Cleveland’s 40-man and ex-George County standout Justin Steele made the Chicago Cubs’ protected roster. Braxton Lee, a Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss alum from Picayune, was removed from Miami’s 40-man and designated for assignment. He had a roller-coaster 2018 campaign that started in the big leagues.
Anthony Alford is back in the big leagues, looking for his first at-bat since May 13. The former Petal High star was recalled from the minors by Toronto on Monday; he is not in tonight’s lineup against Baltimore. Alford, 24, had a tough year at Triple-A Buffalo, batting .240 with five homers and 17 steals. He was injured in big league camp in the spring and got into just seven games with Blue Jays in May before heading to the minors. In 22 MLB at-bats over the last two years, the erstwhile college quarterback has three hits. Alford’s prospect star has dimmed a bit from what it once was, though he is still rated No. 5 in the Toronto system by MLB Pipeline. The remains of this season could be important to his future. Alford said he is particularly pumped about playing in the big leagues with his brother-in-law, Jonathan Davis, who came up through the minors with him. “We’re both here and now it’s just a matter of going out there and playing and having fun,” Alford told the Toronto Sun. P.S. Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe, a rising prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, will lead Durham against Memphis in tonight’s Triple-A championship game in Columbus, Ohio. Lowe, named to Baseball America’s Minor League All-Stars second team, batted .260 with four homers for Durham and .330 with 27 bombs over three levels on the year. Suiting up for Memphis, St. Louis’ top affiliate, is ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 16 games for the Redbirds. The 6 p.m. game will be broadcast by the NBC Sports Network.
Jarrod Dyson is expected to be ready for spring training in 2019, according to one report on Thursday. That’s the glass is half full part of the story. The other part: For the second straight year, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star has seen his season halted early by a lower body injury that requires surgery. Last year it was a double hernia, this year an abductor muscle. Dyson is 34. The comeback next spring won’t be a snap. Dyson, in the big leagues since 2010, signed a two-year deal as a free agent with Arizona this past off-season. In 67 games with the Diamondbacks, the speedy outfielder batted .189 with 16 stolen bases. He went on the disabled list on July 5 with a groin injury. He was on a minor league rehab assignment last weekend when the abductor issue flared up. “Jarrod was trying to gut it out and get back here as fast as he possibly could,” D’backs manager Torey Lovullo said in an mlb.com story. Dyson spent the first seven years of his career with Kansas City, winning a ring in 2015, before moving to Seattle in a trade. Though he missed most of the last month of 2017 because of the double hernia, he batted .251 with a career-best 56 runs and 28 steals. For his career, the onetime 50th-round draft pick, a McComb native, is hitting .251 with 220 steals, third-most among Mississippi-born players. P.S. Toronto manager John Gibbons, the old Jackson Mets catcher from 1982 and ’83, won’t return with the Blue Jays in 2019. Gibbons, much-criticized as a manager, has won more than 780 games in 11 seasons spread over two stints with Toronto, twice making the postseason.
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.