While feeling a greater level of comfort in his third big league camp this spring, a Hall of Fame conversation sparked in Anthony Alford a new, higher level of expectation.
Now, as the Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect begins to come into his own in his first season at Double-A, he pulls no punches as to what he feels he is capable of in the game, and he's ready to put in the work.
"I sat down and talked with Tim Raines for about an hour and a half midway through Spring Training," said Alford. "Being blessed to be able to talk to a Hall of Famer and just pick his brain about the stuff he struggled with and the things that helped him along in his career, it made my level of expectation higher. It gives me something more to strive for."
Raines, who will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 30, encouraged the former Division I footballer and reminded him how far he's come in such a short period. Drafted out of Petal (Mississippi) High School in 2012, Alford also played college football at Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi before taking on the full-time rigors of baseball in 2015.
In his first full season he hit .298 between two levels. Last year in Class A Advanced Dunedin, he suffered a concussion and a knee injury that cut into his playing time, which makes the spring chat with Raines stand out that much more as Alford has gotten off to a torrid start for New Hampshire.
"He's committed," said Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson. "He knows what he's got to do. It's not for lack of preparing for the game, he's always working on something, on a mission. He's a kid that's had some health issues, but he's ready to go right now, looks good."
Over his first nine games at Double-A, he's posted an absurd .500/.590/.656 line, complemented by eight runs scored, five stolen bases and six multi-hit games.
Video: New Hampshire's Alford hits first Double-A homer
Alford has also shined in a very talented New Hampshire outfield -- alongside Blue Jays No. 14 prospect Harold Ramirez, No. 29 Jonathan Davis and Roemon Fields -- showing range at all three positions.
Loaded with tools, Alford has become more confident with each at-bat, and though his ever-growing expectations may sound brash, they are tempered by his humble nature and poise.
"I want to try to be one of the greatest to ever play the game," he said. "I'm not saying I'm going to be the greatest to ever play the game, but I'm going to strive for it. I'm going to do everything I can to be one of the greatest. Just from talking to Tim Raines, and him sharing his wisdom with me … just makes me raise my level of expectations for myself."
No longer feeling his way around the game, he knows that hitting each new level provides him another opportunity to learn more about the game and himself. He learned in big league camp that this is exactly how those currently on the Blue Jays have had to do it, and he knows that it's the same path that Raines had to follow to the Hall of Fame.
"They've been in the same position as us right now. They had to come through High-A, Double A, the whole thing. They fine-tuned and sharpened their skills, that's why they're up there. They know themselves as a baseball player and they're consistent not only on the field but off the field as well," said Alford. "For [Raines] to tell me that he feels like I have what it takes to be a successful big leaguer, it means a lot. It gave me so much extra confidence. … It really helped me out a lot to talk with him."
Getting a good jump: Hartford outfielder Max White has gotten off on the right foot when it comes to stealing bases. Through 10 games he is a clean seven-for-seven on attempts. His 36 steals at Modesto last season were second most in the California League, and his 34 with Asheville in 2015 were eighth best in the South Atlantic. White's seven to start the season are an early EL best and tied for second most in the Minors.
Zeroed in: Nationals No. 2 prospect Erick Fedde has dazzled in the early going. In his first two starts the Harrisburg hurler did not yield a run, allowing seven hits and three walks over 11 innings. With strong command of a three-pitch arsenal, Fedde has gotten 33 strikes looking while also being able to throw 63 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Boomtown bats: Bowie stands as the lone team in the league hitting over .300. Through 11 games the Baysox have a .308 team average, 36 points higher than New Hampshire, the league's second best hitting team. Bowie has averaged just under 11 hits per game and lead the league in runs (65), RBIs (59) and OPS (.849).