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FSL notes: Alford frustrated by injuries

Dunedin outfielder looks for optimism after knee, concussion setbacks
July 13, 2016

As low as Anthony Alford's batting average is, that isn't the most disappointing part of the season so far for the Toronto Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect.

"Just want to play," the Dunedin center fielder said. "That's what's really been frustrating."

A knee injury on Opening Day and a concussion in early June have cost Alford nearly 40 games and likely many more points than that on his batting average.

"When you get in a good rhythm and then get hurt again, it's really hard," said the former college football player. "You have to start all over again."

Alford was 5-for-45 with 28 strikeouts in his first 12 games back after dislocating his right kneecap on a play at the plate, his average down to .106 on May 15.

"I came back in about three weeks and that was probably too fast," he said. "I should have got more reps in extended [spring training] when I was rehabbing."

Alford, ranked No. 37 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, missed much less time when a frightening collision put him on the disabled list again, and he thought the carryover wouldn't be as bad. 

Unfortunately, the right-handed batter was wrong. Alford, who turns 22 on July 20, was 8-for-57 in his first 17 games back this time, dropping a batting average he had gotten up to .233 down to .184.

Concentrating fully on baseball for the first time, Toronto's third-round choice in the 2012 Draft batted a combined .298 with 36 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases last year for Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin in a breakout season. He had an OPS of .820 over 107 games in 2015. This year it was .539 after 49 games.

"In baseball, you can't be afraid to fail," he said. "It has been a lot of learning for me this year. I didn't struggle much last year, so I think this has been good for me in a way. You don't want to struggle for the first time in the Major Leagues."

Toronto second baseman Devon Travis has helped keep Alford from getting too down.

"When he was here rehabbing [his shoulder], we spent time together and had a lot of long talks," Alford said. "He kept saying to look at the big picture. One season isn't going to make or break your career."

Alford was already playing catchup after being a quarterback at Southern Miss and then a defensive back at the University of Mississippi before finally abandoning football. The Blue Jays gave him a bonus of $750,000 out of high school to keep baseball in the picture, but he had played in just 25 Minor League games before last year.

Toronto's gamble looked like it had really paid off when Alford starred in the Class A Midwest League and then kept going after his promotion to Dunedin in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Then came the frustration of this year, with two costly injuries.

At least he was able to avoid knee surgery after the first and didn't suffer a neck injury in the second, when he had to be taken off the field on a stretcher after colliding with shortstop Richard Urena.

"It's definitely scary when you wake up in the middle of the field, your left side is numb and people are saying 'Don't move. Don't move,'" Alford said. "But the feeling started coming back on the trip to the hospital and my concussion symptoms went away pretty quick."

The time off, though, was another setback to overcome.

"I'm just trying to stay healthy as much as I can. That's my main goal from here on out," he said. "I want to perform and put up good numbers, but mainly I just want to be on the field so I can work on my game.

"Everyone knows my story. This is really just my second year of baseball after mostly taking three or four years off. It's not so much not putting up good numbers like I wanted to that is frustrating; it's the injuries that are holding me back."

In brief

Mass exodus: Fort Myers opened the season with three of Minnesota's Top 10 prospects in its rotation but had none left by July -- No. 2 prospect Tyler Jay went up to Double-A on July 7, joining No. 5 prospect Steven Gonsalves and No. 6 Kohl Stewart. The biggest loss for Fort Myers, though, was Felix Jorge, who moved up July 7 to Chattanooga with Jay. Jorge, ranked No. 23 among Twins prospects, led the Florida State League with a 1.55 ERA, and the right-hander was tied for first with nine victories after winning his last seven starts. Jay, a lefty who was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 Draft, was 5-5 with a 2.84 ERA. He is ranked No. 52 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects.

Also on move: Right-hander Brent Honeywell, ranked No. 38 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, was promoted from Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery despite struggling in his final start July 5 for the Stone Crabs. Tampa Bay's No. 2 prospect gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings against Bradenton in his third game since spending six weeks on the disabled list with a tender arm. Honeywell, 21, was 4-0 with a 1.30 ERA in seven starts before the DL stint and 0-1 with a 5.65 ERA in the three outings afterwards. He had 64 strikeouts to 11 walks in 56 innings overall.

Red-hot hitter: Fort Myers shortstop Nick Gordon was 15-for-39 over a nine-game stretch through July 10, improving his batting average to .296. Minnesota's No. 3 prospect had seven runs scored and five RBIs during the stretch. Gordon, 20, had a .343 on-base percentage and a .411 slugging mark highlighted by five triples. The fifth overall pick in the 2014 Draft, who is ranked No. 33 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, had 16 errors, but two came while he filled in at second base for two games and for one game at third base.

Wins keep coming: Dunedin right-hander Sean Reid-Foley improved to 4-0 with an 0.86 ERA, winning 2-1 at Fort Myers on July 8. Toronto's No. 3 prospect allowed four hits and the run over five innings, striking out six and walking one in his fifth start for Dunedin. Reid-Foley, 20, had 38 strikeouts to seven walks in 31 1/3 innings after beginning the season 4-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 11 starts for Lansing in the Midwest League. He was a second-round choice in the 2014 Draft by the Blue Jays. With Reid-Foley leading the way on the mound, Dunedin began the second half 14-5 to take the lead in the FSL's North Division.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com.