The home run that Joey Gallo hit Friday is why the prospect-loving wing of the Texas Rangers’ fan base gets loopy at the thought of him doing that at Globe Life Park.
To be perfectly honest, the giddiness is probably building in some members of the Rangers’ front office.
The media likes Gallo, too. He’s got an 80 grade when it comes to knowing what to say and when to say it and how to interact with members of the Fourth Estate.
A few lockers away from the buzz of Gallo’s locker, another premium prospect arguably has had a better camp.
Only a prospect with the might of Gallo could overshadow a high-upside talent at a high-demand, short-supply position like Jorge Alfaro. The Rangers should be giddy at how one of the game’s top catching prospects seems to have finally matured.
“I’m learning,” Alfaro said Saturday. “I’ve learned a lot from the coaches and players. Every time I come out, I can see how everybody works. They make jokes sometimes in the clubhouse, but when we go outside, everybody is focused and mature doing their job.
“I have a model. I know how to work. I am learning what I need to do to be here with them.”
Alfaro has been the project of first-base coach Hector Ortiz, formerly the minor-league catching instructor. Ortiz traveled across Latin America during past off-seasons to work with Alfaro and to drive home the importance of the mental side of the job.
Alfaro was primarily a third baseman when the Rangers snatched him out of Colombia in 2010 and put him behind the plate. Alfaro was slowed with leg issues in 2012, and it wasn’t until 2013 when he started logging games consistently and learning how to be a catcher.
The arm has always been there, but the mechanics, the receiving skills and the know-how of calling games have lagged behind. Alfaro was tormented by passed balls and wild pitches last season, and the root cause was a lack of focus.
An alarm went off at Double A, where pitches moved and darted more sharply and quickly than he had ever seen. Alfaro realized that it was time to take his craft more seriously, something Ortiz had been preaching for years.
Ortiz saw the maturity Wednesday, a day after Alfaro couldn’t smother a Lisalverto Bonilla changeup in the dirt that allowed the winning run to score in a 5-4 loss to the Los Angels Angels.
“He bounced back like a true professional,” Ortiz said. “He was like, ‘I’ve got to come back the next day and I’ve got to play my game.’ And he did. That’s a good sign for what we’re looking for from him.”
It hasn’t been easy getting Alfaro to this point, and it’s also been difficult to remember that he won’t turn 22 until June.
“Sometimes we ask a kid of 17 or 18 years old to act like a man and learn a position he never played before as a kid,” Ortiz said. “The demands the position has, it’s not easy. I knew it was going to take time. I was probably the only one being patient.”
Ivan Rodriguez was so good so quickly in part because he started catching at age 5. Robinson Chirinos, 30, has only now developed into a quality catcher after signing as a shortstop.
The transition isn’t easy without the dedication the process requires.
“When you want to learn something and you put that in your heart, it’s not that hard,” Chrinos said. “It’s hard when you don’t set your mind and heart to it.”
Alfaro has, finally, and it’s showing this spring as he develops a routine that keeps his mind sharp. He has also been showing off his power and hit tools at the plate.
He’ll return to Frisco to start the season. An Arlington finish might be asking too much, but a more mature Alfaro is moving closer to his ultimate goal of being in the majors.
“He’s come a long way,” Ortiz said. “It could take off. This could be the year he figures everything out. I think we’re on the right track finally.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760