Few if any organizations can match the Rangers when it comes to investing in international players or in high-risk, high-reward prospects. Jorge Alfaro exemplifies Texas' pursuit of both types.
The Rangers signed him in January 2010 for $1.3 million, a record for a Colombian prospect. There may not be a catcher in the Minors with a higher ceiling.
At the same time Alfaro's offensive and defensive games are very much a work in progress. Thus, getting him further development time with the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League makes sense.
Alfaro offers huge right-handed raw power, which he generates with a short stroke and plenty of bat speed. He still has room to add strength to his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, too. This season, Alfaro hit 18 homers in 404 at-bats, most of them at low Class A Hickory, as a 20-year-old.
Yet, his approach still needs a lot of refinement. Alfaro still is learning to recognize pitches and work counts, as evidenced by his 122 strikeouts vs. 32 walks.
He's similarly raw behind the plate. Alfaro's arm strength is his best tool, grading out as well above average, and he threw out 31 percent of basestealers in 2013. He moves well but is prone to receiving lapses, committing 28 passed balls (as well as 11 errors) in 82 games.
Alfaro said he's most looking forward to working with more advanced pitchers in the AFL, something he figures will allow him to hone his defensive ability.
"We are from different teams and if I can make that relationship with their pitchers, I can do that with my pitchers on my team," Alfaro said. "I'm excited because Double-A, Triple-A pitchers know what they need to do and they can throw all their pitches for strikes. I can learn about sequences and learn a little bit about everything. I want to show what I can do."
Alfaro has been one of the AFL's hottest hitters in the first two weeks, batting .414 with six RBIs in eight games. He has struck out six times in 29 at-bats. Defensively, Alfaro had two passed balls and an error in six games as a catcher, though he had erased four of eight basestealers.
He has a ways to go, but Alfaro definitely has the ceiling of an All-Star. Of the 13 Colombians who have reached the Major Leagues, only Edgar Renteria played in an All-Star Game.
Alfaro said he takes pride in his heritage.
"That means a lot for me because there are not a lot of players from Colombia and we need to show to everybody that we can play baseball," he said. "We can be athletes. We can do it. We can make it."
Rangers hitters in the AFL
• First baseman Brett Nicholas hit 17 homers in his first three pro seasons after signing as a 2010 sixth-rounder from Missouri, then erupted for 21 long balls in Double-A this year. Left-handed power may be his lone average tool, however, and there's some concern as to how his long swing will play at higher levels.
• A 17th-rounder in the 2011 Draft out of Lake Erie, an NAIA school in Ohio, Ryan Rua didn't reach full-season ball until 2013. He made up for lost time by blasting 32 homers and reaching Double-A. He has legitimate pull power but there are questions as to how well his other tools will play and where. Mostly a second baseman during the regular season, he has played third base for Surprise.
Rangers pitchers in the AFL
• Right-hander Ryan Harvey was just an 18th-round Draft pick out of Seton Hall in 2012, yet he displayed two plus pitches at times as a reliever in low Class A this season. He has a low-90s fastball and a low-80s slider with tilt, though he'll need to throw more strikes.
• More of a center fielder at Clemson, left-hander Will Lamb has stuck to pitching since signing as a second-rounder in 2011. He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s, though he also will pitch in the high 80s at times. His curveball has its moments, too, but he has yet to show much consistency with his command or control.
• Right-hander Nick McBride had a 6.26 ERA as a starter and a 1.61 ERA as a reliever during the regular season, and he has worked strictly out of the bullpen (albeit with a 10.13 ERA in his first four appearances) in the AFL. A fifth-round Draft pick as a North Carolina high schooler in 2009, his best offering is a low-90s fastball.
• After signing as a second-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2007, righty Matt West spent his first four pro seasons as an infielder. He dominated when he moved to the mound in 2011, but required Tommy John surgery the following year and made just one regular-season appearance this season. Before he got hurt, West had a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider.