The Rockies announced today that they have selected the contract of catcher Jorge Alfaro. Fellow backstop Brian Serven was optioned in a corresponding move. In order to open a spot for Alfaro on the 40-man, right-hander Blair Calvo was designated for assignment.
Alfaro, 30, makes it back to the big leagues for the first time this year. He has appeared in each of the past seven major league seasons but had to settle for a minor league deal with the Red Sox this winter. He was crushing for their Triple-A team, hitting .320/.366/.520 through 191 plate appearances, but the Sox never called him up. Alfaro triggered an opt-out in his contract and the club released him rather than giving him a roster spot.
He then signed another minor league deal, landing with the Rockies just five days ago. He played three games for their Triple-A club and hit .357/.357/.571 in that brief sample before getting called up. That kind of production would be welcome on any club, but it’s no guarantee Alfaro can provide it. He has often hit well in the minors, which has led to many big league opportunities over the years, as the Phillies, Marlins, Padres and now Rockies have all had him on their respective rosters at various points. But in 478 career games in the majors, he’s hit just .256/.305/.396 for a wRC+ of 89.
Alfaro has generally been considered a bat-first catcher and has tallied a cumulative -17 Defensive Runs Saved thus far in his career. Teams could surely tolerate a bit of that if Alfaro were producing with the bat, but he’s hasn’t been able to manage that quite yet.
Despite his tepid results in the big leagues thus far, it’s not surprising that the Rockies are willing to give him a shot. He’s been hitting very well in the minors this year and is a former top 100 prospect. They already have a couple of catchers on the roster in Elias Díaz and Austin Wynns but have been going with a three-catcher setup of late. Serven was recalled a couple of days ago as Díaz was dealing with a minor injury. Díaz sat out Sunday’s game but returned to the lineup for the next three contests.
Díaz is having a solid season, hitting .295/.351/.457 for a 105 wRC+ and is unlikely to be usurped as long as he stays healthy. Perhaps Alfaro will factor into the designated hitter mix, where the club doesn’t really have an everyday option now that Charlie Blackmon is on the injured list. Since he’s been gone, Díaz, Randal Grichuk and Jurickson Profar have each been given starts as the DH. If both Díaz and Alfaro were in the lineup, they would still have Wynns on hand as a safety net in the event of an injury.
The club will surely be hoping that Alfaro can give a boost to their lineup but he could also wind up as a summer trade chip if this is the year he finally puts it together in the majors. The Rockies have one of the worst records in the National League at 29-41 and could find themselves in position to sell. Since Alfaro is scheduled for free agency again this winter, he would be a logical candidate for such a move.
In order to take a shot on Alfaro, the Rockies are risking losing Calvo. Now 27 years old, he was drafted by the club in the 23rd round in 2019. Last year, he tossed 35 relief innings in Double-A with a 3.09 ERA, 32.2% strikeout rate, 7.5% walk rate and 57.6% ground ball rate. The club added him to the roster in November to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Unfortunately, his results haven’t been as strong this year, though he did throw one scoreless inning in his major league debut. The rest of the year has been spent at Triple-A, where he has a 7.43 ERA through 23 innings. There’s probably a bit of bad luck in there, as he has a .413 batting average on balls in play and 55.3% strand rate. His peripherals have gone in the wrong direction compared to last year, though not by too much, as he’s struck out 28.3% of opponents while walking 8.8% and getting grounders on 47.6% of balls in play.
Though his 5.02 FIP is much nicer than this ERA, he’s nonetheless lost his roster spot. The Rockies will now have a week to trade him or pass him through waivers. In the event that he clears, he would not have the right to elect free agency since he has neither a previous career outright nor three years of service time.