Missing a month due to a knee injury was only a small part of the problems Anthony Alford faced when he returned to Class A Advanced Dunedin. Suddenly unable to play the way he was accustomed to, the Blue Jays' top prospect began to doubt himself and, worse, wondered if he would ever be the same player.
But a timely conversation with a good friend and fellow ballplayer seems to have put the 21-year-old back on the path to success.
MLB.com's No. 38 overall prospect continued to round back into form Saturday, collecting three singles and scoring a run in Dunedin's 3-1 victory at Bradenton. And if you ask him, he owes much of it to rehabbing Blue Jays infielder Devon Travis, who hit .304 in 62 games as a big leaguer last year.
"We had breakfast not too long ago and he talked to me for a good 90 minutes," Alford said. "He told me about how he got off to a horrible start in Double-A back in 2014. He said it felt like that was it for him, it was that bad. But everything turned around when he started believing in himself, and he encouraged me to do the same. He said that struggling would actually be good for me and told me that if I couldn't handle struggling in A-ball, there's no way I could handle it in the Majors."
Alford admits to a lot of bad thoughts surrounding his ability. He injured his knee on Opening Day and did not return to the Dunedin lineup until May 2. Although he was playing again, the Mississippi native struggled through a 5-for-45 stretch that left his average at .106 on May 15.
"Missing that time had a huge impact," Alford said. "When you're out for several weeks, it takes time to get your timing back as well as your pitch recognition. I rehabbed in extended spring training, but the pitching there is so predictable; they don't mix anything up. So when I got back to the Florida State League, I was facing good pitchers who were attacking my weaknesses and using the scouting reports against me. It took me a long time to catch up, and I got real frustrated and put a lot of pressure on myself."
Since that 0-for-4 showing on May 15, Alford is batting .346 with four runs scored and three RBIs during a six-game hitting streak.
His resurgence continued against the Marauders when he singled in each of his first three plate appearances and scored the Blue Jays' second run on L.B. Dantzer's groundout. He bounced out and struck out in his final two at-bats.
"The main thing was getting the same feel I had last year and trying to be consistent every at-bat," Alford said. "My first few games back, I was trying different things every time up. It took me a few weeks to get that feel back, get that pitch recognition down and to think along with the pitchers.
"[Travis] told me that I would come out of it if I believed in myself. I was in a dark place, doubting myself, my abilities and having thoughts of never being able to get out of this. But he reassured me that if you want to break out, believe in yourself and have the confidence to do so."
The three hits were a season high for Alford, who's gotten his average up to .192.
Dickie Joe Thon smacked a solo homer in the first, providing all the offense Chris Rowley (2-0) needed. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed three hits and three walks while striking out two over six scoreless innings.
Bradenton starter Colton Brewer (1-6) recorded a season-high eight strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings but gave up three runs on five hits and four walks.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.