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April 26, 2017

Is Jorge Alfaro doing enough to open the Phillies' eyes?

Like many major league managers in the modern age of baseball, Pete Mackanin gets many a report placed on his desk throughout the season.

Scouting reports on the current and upcoming opponents, analytical reports on the same teams, and on his own, in order to enhance his daily decision-making, and, of course, reports on the players in his organization he doesn’t get to see until they show up one day in his clubhouse. It was one of the latter such reports that Mackanin said he had just got through checking out.

Really, it’s hard to ignore the stats top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro has put up in the first 2 1/2 weeks of the minor league season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Alfaro, No.1 in our latest Phillies Prospect Power Rankings, is slashing .377/.397/.607 with three home runs, 10 RBI, two doubles, and a triple after 15 games in Triple-A. 

“I just looked at his numbers – he’s doing very well,” Mackanin said prior to Wednesday’s Phillies-Marlins game at Citizens Bank Park. “Last night he hit the ball out (for his third home run), he threw a couple of guys out (trying to steal). And he did something else good, I can’t remember what it was. He’s playing well.”

What are the reports saying about his work behind the plate?

“Apparently he looks very good,” Mackanin said of the 23-year-old Alfaro, who earned a September call-up last season but was set to start the 2017 season in the minor leagues to improve his plate discipline and defensive work.

“He had some issues defensively, he wasn’t getting down low enough,” Mackanin continued Wednesday on that work behind the plate. “He worked on that all spring. He’s a big guy, and it’s a little bit more difficult for a big guy to get down low. And (we wanted him) to be a little bit quieter behind the plate, less movement.

“He certainly doesn’t need a lot of work on this throwing because he's got that howitzer for an arm. He’s doing very well blocking balls. He’s doing everything well right now. And hitting on top of it. So, that’s a nice sign.”

And now the obvious question: how much longer does Alfaro have to murder minor league pitching before he gets a locker stall in Mackanin’s clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park?

Alfaro has only played in 15 games with the IronPigs this season. But if you use the Phillies’ promotion of Tommy Joseph last year as an example, Alfaro could be up sooner rather than later if he continues to impress in the International League.

Related: Phillies Prospect Power Rankings, second edition

A year ago, Joseph, who wasn’t even in major league camp and had been removed from the roster the previous winter, got off to a torrid start in Allentown. The 24-year-old former catching prospect hit .347 with six home runs and a .370 OBP in 27 games with the IronPigs before joining the Phillies on May 13.

Two weeks after Joseph’s promotion, general manager Matt Klentak was asked if other prospects could follow suit. His answer was telling, and, perhaps, a blueprint for how the Phils front office will function in 2017 with a prospect-filled team at Triple-A.

 Alfaro at-bats
 .397.607 3/1017/1

“I don't think, being candid, we opened this season with the expectation that Tommy Joseph would be on our team within six weeks, but he forced the issue,” Klentak said last season. “We're not going to rush the development of the players that we believe they need, but if somebody puts us in that position we'll be happy to promote them.”

The other piece of the puzzle is whether the prospect in question happens to play a position that is up for grabs on the major league roster. For example, it’s unlikely that Jesmuel Valentin or Scott Kingery are going to be on the Phillies roster anytime soon as big league starters with the way Cesar Hernandez has hit since last June.

But Alfaro happens to play a position the Phillies could stand to upgrade.

Cameron Rupp, in his third full season in the big leagues, is hitting .186 with a .308 OBP, one home run, and four doubles in 13 games. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, Rupp has slashed .241/.303/.413. And unlike, say, Freddy Galvis, his defense (and game calling) isn’t strong enough to make an argument for keeping his job if he’s not hitting.

"It'd be kind of fitting if Alfaro was on the roster in time to face Hamels and the Rangers when the Phillies are in Arlington, Texas, in three weeks, wouldn't it?"

Still, the Phillies aren’t likely to pull the plug 18 games into their season. But perhaps after their upcoming road trip, could they promote their so-called catcher of the future, the key piece of the Cole Hamels trade, and give him his first extended look against major league pitching?

Mackanin was asked about the parallel to Joseph last season.

“Hey, you never know,” he said. “I say it all the time, you're always auditioning. You’re always … .”

Mackanin’s voice trailed off. Whether you’re in the majors or minor leagues, you’re always competing for your job.

Alfaro is 9-for-17 with two home runs and a triple in his last four games.

If he is continuing to post eye-popping numbers, say, two weeks from now, it’s probably going to be difficult for Mackanin to look at those reports and wonder why that player isn’t on his roster. Maybe he won’t have to wonder.

It'd be kind of fitting if Alfaro was on the roster in time to face Hamels and the Rangers when the Phillies are in Arlington, Texas, in three weeks, wouldn't it? 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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