Miami Marlins

The new catcher for the Marlins has arm strength. It’s his plate discipline that raises questions.

Miami Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro talks to the press during the 2019 FanFest at Marlins Park in Little Havana on Saturday, February. 9, 2019.
Miami Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro talks to the press during the 2019 FanFest at Marlins Park in Little Havana on Saturday, February. 9, 2019. mocner@miamiherald.com

The Marlins love the strength in Jorge Alfaro’s arm.

It’s the glaring hole in his swing that gives pause.

When the Marlins traded J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies for Alfaro and two minor-league pitching prospects on Thursday, they knew they weren’t exchanging equals at the catching position.

Everyone knew it.

Why else would the Phillies give up not just Alfaro, but also their top pitching prospect in Sixto Sanchez, along with an intriguing minor-league lefty in Will Stewart and $125,000 international bonus slot, in order to complete the deal?

Realmuto is not just an All-Star. He’s regarded as one of the best catchers -- if not THE best -- in the majors. And the Phillies are in win-now mode as opposed to the Marlins, who are rebuilding and likely to lose 100 games this season.

Visitors arrive to the 2019 FanFest at Marlins Park in Little Havana on Saturday, February. 9, 2019.

No, Alfaro is no Realmuto.

But he’s far from an ordinary throw-in, someone the Marlins can plug behind the plate as a stop-gap measure until the day comes they’re ready to win, or minor-league prospect Will Banfield is ready to take over in a few years. Alfaro has already given strong indication he’s an everyday catcher, and the Marlins plan on making him just that.

It’s why manager Don Mattingly at Saturday’s FanFest was singing Alfaro’s praise at the same time he was raising caution flags.

“We’ve got good reports, intel from the Philadelphia side,” Mattingly said. “He’s a great kid, he works hard, knows that he has to continue to work with the pitchers and get better with all that.”

Alfaro last season hit .262 with 10 home runs in 104 games behind the plate for the Phillies. His arm ranks as the strongest in the majors.

“I don’t know if anybody throws better,” Mattingly said. “J.T. threw great. This guy, he throws better.”

Alfaro also graded out better than Realmuto at framing pitches, another key measure for catchers.

But Alfaro led the league in passed balls and was one of the worst catchers in the majors blocking pitches (112th of 115).

Then there is the matter of hitting.

While Alfaro’s basic numbers were promising, he wasn’t exactly selective. He walked just 18 times while striking out 138 times in 377 plate appearances. To put that into context, he became the first player in major league history to whiff so much and walk so little in fewer than 400 plate appearances.

“I’m working on that,” said Alfaro, who spent the offseason trying to improve his swing-and-miss rate. “Just trying to make more contact, that’s one of my goals this year.”

Said Mattingly: “He’s got to put it in play more. Obviously, the strikeouts have been one of the things that (Alfaro needs to )work on, not necessarily to cut his swing down. His swing is pretty efficient. It’s just a matter of approach and thinking.”

Alfaro will also need to familiarize himself with an entirely new group of pitchers -- and they him -- which will be his first order of business when Marlins pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Wednesday.

“I met him the other day and that’s the start of it,” said Marlins pitcher Dan Straily. “It’s the beginning of a relationship. It has to start somewhere. We started with ‘Hello’ and are building from there.”

But one Hall of Fame catcher has already taken an eye to Alfaro.

When Alfaro was starting out in the Texas Rangers farm system, Pudge Rodriguez gave him a few pointers.

“I talked to him a lot about baseball in general -- offense, defense, how to be a professional,” Alfaro said.

Rodriguez even liked to tease Alfaro about his strong throwing arm.

“We always joked around about throwing people out,” Alfaro said. “He tried to make fun of me sometimes. Just playing around.”

Alfaro’s arm is no laughing matter, though.

It’s the ongoing improvement with the rest of his game -- and the development of Sanchez and Stewart -- that will ultimately determine whether the Marlins end up getting the last laugh in the Realmuto trade.

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Clark Spencer is one of the nation’s most experienced baseball writers and has covered the Miami Marlins since 1999. He is past-president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Along with baseball, Spencer has also covered the Summer and Winter Olympics, NBA Finals, NCAA Final Four, College Football Playoffs and Triple Crown.

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