“Toolsy but raw” is a label we often see applied to prospects, scouting lingo for ‘he could be really good but he also could suck’. It was a term applied to Mike Trout (25th overall pick) and Donavan Tate (3rd overall pick) in the 2009 draft. That should give you a pretty good idea of the range of possibilities for players slapped with the toolsy but raw tag.
Jorge Alfaro has, for a long time, been the poster boy for toolsy but raw. Signed by the Rangers out of Colombia at the age of 16, his tremendous raw power and strong throwing arm made him an immediate scout favourite, as he ranked in the Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospects list every year from his age-18 season onwards.
Even now that he has established himself in the Majors at the age of 24, the ‘toolsy but raw’ tag follows Alfaro, and not without good reason. With a strikeout rate near 40% and an on-base percentage that struggles to limp over the .300 mark, Alfaro’s pitch recognition remains a work in progress and his raw power is yet to translate to in-game production.
The arm, however, requires no further development. A strong arm can be an often overrated element to a catcher’s overall ability, and given the recent proliferation in cannon-armed young backstops from Gary Sanchez to Austin Hedges to Christian Vazquez, our standard for arm strength is higher than ever.
But much in the same way that Javier Baez makes the simple act of tagging a baserunner an art of breathtaking brilliance, so too does Jorge Alfaro throw the baseball with a panache and flair that makes me stop and stare.
Let’s get to the video. Back on May 13th, Jorge Alfaro hosed down Amed Rosario at second base, producing the strongest throw on a caught stealing since 2015 in the process:
91.3mph from a crouching start is no mean feat. Little did we know that Alfaro was just getting started.
A week later, he made these two dazzling plays in the seventh inning of a one-run game against the Atlanta Braves:
At the start of Dansby Swanson‘s plate appearance, the Braves win expectancy sat at 31%. By the time Alfaro had thrown out Camargo and gunned down Swanson, it was down to 18%. Then, in the ninth inning, the game ended like this:
That is an inch-perfect bunt from a very speedy runner in Inciarte. It doesn’t seem like any catcher in the world would have a play on this one. But Alfaro spins, takes a brief pause to set himself, and uncorks a missile down to first to nip Inciarte by half a step. An extraordinary play.
Then – of course – for good measure, he did this two days later:
Poor Ender Inciarte is probably quite glad to be out of Philly.
Jorge Alfaro has some significant flaws in his game and he may never shake the ‘toolsy but raw’ tag that has followed him since his teenage years. The light-tower power and otherworldly arm strength are impressive but ultimately provide limited value in isolation.
That’s okay though. Every now and again, Jorge Alfaro will use one of those tools to do something you just didn’t think was possible on a baseball field. He’ll make you stop, stare, rewind and then just laugh. And isn’t that really what we’re here for?