Marlins’ catcher Jorge Alfaro headlines Chapter 81 of our countdown
190. Jorge Alfaro
Alfaro, a 16-year-old catcher from Colombia, signed with the Texas Rangers for $1.3 million, a bonus that was the most for any baseball player from Colombia at the time. Regarded as a top prospect, Alfaro progressed through the minor leagues and was selected for the World team in the 2013 Futures Game.
The Rangers traded Alfaro and five other players to the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline in 2015 to acquire pitchers Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. After getting to Philadelphia, Alfaro injured his ankle which would end his season. Coming into the 2016 season, Alfaro was at Double-A where he hit 15 home runs and drove in 67 runs. The Phillies called him up as rosters expanded and he made his debut on September 12, 2016 where he singled in a pinch hit appearance.
Alfaro played in the 2017 World Baseball Classic for Colombia and was named the Phillies 3rd best prospect by Baseball America. He also saw action for the Phillies late in the 2017 season. In 29 games, Alfaro hit .318/.360/.514 with five home runs. A few glaring weaknesses were present, however. In his 114 plate appearances, Alfaro struck out 33 times and walked only three times. After the major league season was over, Alfaro and Team Colombia won a gold medal in the 2017 Bolivarian Games.
Getting more regular playing time in 2018, continued to excel. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler liked what he saw from the young catcher and went as far as a comparison to Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez. Despite the glowing praise, the Phillies had their eyes set on a current star right in Miami.
Across the 2019 season and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Alfaro hit a combined .256/.306/.410. His .717 OPS, when adjusted for park and league factors, was 10% below league average (90 OPS+). His struggles with contact and plate discipline also remained. In 565 plate appearances between 2019-2020, Alfaro struck out 190 times (33.6% of PA) and walked only 26 times (4.6% of PA).
On the defensive side, Alfaro is known for his strong arm. His pop time to second base is one of the best and he threw out one of every three runners trying to nab second base. However, he has struggled framing pitches and blocking balls behind the plate.
As the Marlins look to build on their 2020 season, Alfaro is facing what is likely a make-or-break season. If he can be more patient in the box and tighten up behind the plate, Alfaro will likely be competing with the Marlins’ most recent signee, catcher Sandy León, for the starting spot.
189. Mat Latos
Latos was named the 2006 South Florida Sun-Sentinel Player of the Year during his senior season at Coconut Creek High School. The 6’6” righthanded pitcher touched 94 MPH in high school and many projected him to be a top draft pick.
Latos’ attitude and behavior on the field, however, cost him being selected in the first round. The San Diego Padres drafted Latos in the 11th round as a “draft-and-follow” pick. Instead of having to offer a contract immediately, the team was able to follow Latos for one season in college and then decide on offering him a contract. Latos attended Broward Community College for one season and matured enough for the Padres to offer him a contract with a $1.25 million signing bonus.
Across three minor league season, Latos held a 2.49 ERA and quickly found himself in the big leagues. He made his major league debut on July 19, 2009, giving up two earned runs over four innings and striking out four batters. Latos pitched well the following season, keeping his ERA at 2.92 over 31 starts and collected 14 wins, good enough to collect a few points in the 2010 Cy Young Award vote.
After the 2011 season, the Cincinnati Reds sent four players to the Padres in order to acquire Latos, who would join Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto in the starting rotation. Latos won 14 games in 2012 and 2013, helping the Reds reach the postseason in consecutive seasons. A knee injury which required surgery sidelined Latos at the beginning of the 2014 season and he would later accuse the Reds of rushing him back before he was completely healed. By the end of the season, Latos was traded to Miami.
The Marlins acquired Latos before the 2015 season for pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and catcher Chad Wallach. Latos’ Marlins career was short-lived. He started 16 games for the Fish, going 4-and-7 with an ERA of 4.48. By midseason, Latos was part of a three-team trade involving the Marlins, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers released Latos after six games and he quickly signed with the Los Angeles Angels, where he appeared in two games.
In his last two major league seasons, Latos appeared in 20 games for three different teams. He is currently playing in the Frontier League with the New Jersey Jackals.
188. Carlos Zambrano
Zambrano, a righthanded pitcher (and switch hitter!) from Venezuela, signed with the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent when he was 16 years old. He spent his first three professional seasons, and most of his fourth season, in the Cubs’ minor league system.
Zambrano made his major league debut on August 20, 2001 in the second game of a doubleheader. He didn’t pitch well, allowing seven earned runs and walking four batters, and earned the loss. He pitched in a few more games for the Cubs that season, but would start the 2002 season in Triple-A. Upon being called up, Zambrano pitched out of the bullpen before sliding into his role in the starting rotation.
By 2003, Zambrano solidified his spot in the starting rotation, which he would hold for many years. He led the league in lowest home runs per nine innings with 0.4. The following season, Zambrano was an All-Star and finished in the top-5 pitchers for the 2004 Cy Young Award. His 2004 selection made him the youngest Cubs pitcher to ever be named to the All-Star Team. By 2005, he was the Cubs’ Opening Day starting pitcher, a spot he would hold through the 2010 season.
While Zambrano led the National League in wins (16) in 2006, he also walked the most batters (115). He previously led pitchers in hit batters and would walk the most batters once more. Despite his lack of control, Zambrano was again an All-Star, top-5 in Cy Young Award voting, and was awarded a Silver Slugger.
Happy Birthday to former Marlin Carlos Zambrano! pic.twitter.com/dH71rcnDYL
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 1, 2020
We all know that pitchers cannot hit. When they were the ones standing in the batters’ box with a bat in their hands and a helmet on their head in 2018, pitchers collectively slashed .115/.144/.148. That’s what makes “good-hitting” pitchers impressive. In 2005, Zambrano hit .300/.300/.463 with six doubles, two triples, and a home run. The following year, 2006, Zambrano collected 11 hits; six of those hits were home runs. By the end of his career, Zambrano was a 3-time All Star and 3-time Silver Slugger. He also threw a no-hitter in 2008 against the Houston Astros.
Why, then, were the Cubs so willing to send this 3-time All Star, 3-time top-5 Cy Young Award vote getter to the Marlins with $15 million in exchange for Chris Volstad, a pitcher with a 4.59 ERA, more losses than wins, and who allows almost 1 base runners per inning?
Zambrano, as you may remember, was very easy to anger. It’s almost impossible to count every incident of rage, so in the interest of time and frustration, here are just a few…
- In a game in 2007, Zambrano got into a fight with his catcher, Michael Barrett, in the dugout which had to be broken up by teammates. Zambrano followed his catcher into the clubhouse where the fight was sparked again. Barrett wound up at the hospital with minor injuries.
- In a game in 2009, Zambrano was arguing with an umpire and appeared to make contact with him, which led to an ejection. He proceeded to throw the ball into leftfield, hurl his glove into the dugout, and attack a cooler with a bat. This led to a suspension and fine.
- In a game in 2010, Zambrano got into a yelling match with teammate Derrek Lee and again had to be separated by teammates. He was suspended again and it was reported that Zambrano would have to attend treatment for anger management before returning to the team.
- In a game in 2011, Zambrano had a bad outing where he gave up five home runs to the Atlanta Braves. After the final home run, Zambrano brushed back Chipper Jones with two pitches and was immediately ejected. He then went into the clubhouse, cleaned out his locker, said he was retiring, and left the ballpark. The team placed Zambrano on the disqualified list and he would not appear for the Cubs again. Earlier in the season, Zambrano had publicly called the Cubs embarrassing and said they “played like a Triple-A team.”
The Marlins however, named Ozzie Guillén the team’s new manager and hoped his close friendship with Zambrano would make the trade work out. Zambrano made 20 starts for the Fish in 2012, but was moved to the bullpen mid-season where he appeared in 15 games. He held a 4.49 ERA for the Marlins that season, striking out 95 and walking 75 batters. The Marlins let Zambrano go at the end of the season.
After leaving Miami, Zambrano played for his home country of Venezuela in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and then signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. He also briefly played in the Mexican League and in the independent American Association, most recently in 2019.
187. Jason Vargas
Vargas, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 43rd round of the 2001 Draft, declined to sign and chose to attend college instead. With their 2nd round pick in the 2004 Draft, the Marlins took the California State University, Long Beach lefty.
Vargas impressed the Fish during his short time in the minor leagues. After throwing only 168 professional innings, the Marlins called Vargas up. He made his major league debut on July 14, 2005. His time with the Marlins was short. In 19 appearances across his first two season, Vargas held a 5.25 ERA with a 6-7 record. He was traded to the New York Mets after the 2006 season.
With the Mets, Vargas struggled terribly. In 10 innings across two starts, Vargas gave up 14 runs on 17 hits. He spent all of 2008 in the minor leagues and was traded to the Seattle Mariners in a three-team trade involving 12 players.
By the 2010 season, Vargas seemed to straighten things out and gradually improved from year to year. In 2012, Vargas secured 14 wins and his fantastic stretch in July won him the American League’s Pitcher of the Month. Over 6 starts in July, Vargas was 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA.
By the end of the season, the other AL West teams were taking notice. The Los Angeles Angels traded for Vargas, sending slugger Kendrys Morales to the Mariners. His time in Los Angeles was brief, however. He later signed a four-year deal with the Kansas City Royals worth $32 million.
Vargas was a big part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series run, but recorded a loss in Game 4 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants who would go on to win the Fall Classic. Vargas had Tommy John Surgery in 2015 and was not able to pitch in the playoffs for the Royals, who would go on to win the World Series. In 2017, Vargas was selected to the All-Star team, led the league with 18 wins, and struck out a career-best 134 batters. In 2018 and 2019, Vargas spent time with the Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.