Toronto Blue Jays prospect Anthony Alford feels like he has some catching up to do, given that his pro baseball career consisted of 25 games over three seasons.
Lansing Lugnuts' hitting coach Kenny Graham thinks it's only going to be a short time before opposing teams are the ones trying to catch up to Alford.
Alford, who played quarterback at Southern Mississippi and then transferred to the University of Mississippi, left the Rebels program last September to focus on baseball. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-handed hitter, Alford is batting .314 in 18 games with the Lugnuts this season. Of his 22 hits, 10 are doubles, and he's stolen four bases.
Drafted in the third round by the Blue Jays in 2012, Alford was limited by his football commitment and only played five Rookie league games in 2012, six in 2013 and 14 last season between Rookie and Class A.
A former Mr. Football and Mr. Baseball in the state of Mississippi, the 20-year-old Alford played winter ball in Australia prior to the 2015 season and is now making an impact in the Midwest League.
"Playing in Australia was huge for Anthony -- just being able to get to play on a daily basis," Graham said. "Getting down there to invest himself, invest time and play the game whole-heartedly was really important. It was a good level of competition for him.
"He got 100 plate appearances in his first three years with us, and that's not a whole lot," Graham continued. "He's not necessarily behind, just because of the amount of time he's played and been committed to the game. He's made some tremendous jumps already this season and made some mechanical changes in his swing. He has a good arm, but he doesn't quite know how to throw a baseball yet. He's a very accurate thrower, but he doesn't know how to cut it loose and get his body into it. It's getting better, and he's going to improve a lot faster than a normal inexperienced player."
Alford went to Australia to immerse himself in the game. It wasn't about putting up flashy numbers; it was about getting at-bats, playing games, competing and living in a baseball culture.
"I was just trying to get caught up as much as I could as far as baseball and getting educated in the game," Alford said. "I learned a lot, being around older guys.
"I feel like I'm a quick learner. My whole life, I had to just start playing baseball when the season started. I never had a chance to prep for it. I never had a chance to focus on one sport. I feel like I have a high potential in baseball. I don't think it's going to take me that long to develop in baseball."
Alford said a number of factors figured in his decision to focus on baseball. He said that his decision shouldn't be looked at as a negative toward the sport of football ot the University of Mississippi.
"I just got married," Alford said. "I had to make a decision that was going to be beneficial to my wife and I in the long run.
"Plus all the contact I was experiencing in football. … I was playing safety. I'd wake up with headaches. My back would be sore. Last summer, when I finished in Lansing, baseball was the most fun I had since I was in high school. I started to understand what professional baseball was all about."
Graham said the Blue Jays are excited about having Alford as a full-time player.
"It's limitless what Anthony can do. He's a tremendous center fielder," Graham said. "He can run -- he's such a strong kid. He's able to hit the ball out of the park from left field to right field. For his experience level, he's a tremendous base stealer. His baseball aptitude is outstanding.
"There's no question he's going to be very special for our organization. There are a lot of players who come through the Minor Leagues with a lot of tools, but a good character kid like Anthony who has the work ethic and the will to win and the drive that he's got, you don't see very often."
Double duty: South Bend public address announcer Jon Thompson moved to the field Monday as an umpire for the Cubs' game against the Lansing Lugnuts to replace a regular Midwest League umpire, who suffered a concussion after being hit by a foul ball. Thompson, a local radio personality, has been a long-time high school and college baseball umpire in the South Bend area, and has been called on to fill in as an umpire at numerous Midwest League games in the past. "It's like that TV series, 'Upstairs, Downstairs,'" Thompson joked about working a Cubs game as the announcer one game and as an umpire the next.
Hot start: Dayton pitcher Seth Varner has only given up one walk in 35 innings this season. Varner, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-hander who played collegiately at Miami University in Ohio, is tied for the Midwest League lead with four wins. He has a 2.31 ERA and has 39 strikeouts to his one walk.
Skid continues: Wisconsin's losing streak has stretched to 11 games, including an 0-8 record at home in the month of May. The Timber Rattlers' last victory came April 30, a 3-1 decision over Clinton. The Timber Rattlers have been outscored 69-28 during the losing streak.
Curt Rallo is a contributor to MiLB.com.