John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Even as his bat has cooled a bit, the raves keep coming for Pete Alonso as he continues to make believers throughout the baseball community, not only with his missile-launches but also his advanced approach at the plate that makes him much more than an all-or-nothing slugger.
That rare combination earned him recognition last week as the National League's Rookie of the Month for April, as well as comparisons via the MLB Network to the likes of Mark McGwire, Buster Posey, and Justin Turner.
It also allows Mark DeRosa, the ex-big leaguer and MLB Network analyst who did a video breakdown of Alonso last week, to say with certainty: "This isn't going away what this guy is doing. It's not a fluke."
That notion is becoming more and more a consensus opinion among baseball people, based more due to Alonso's discipline at the plate and his ability to hit the ball to the opposite field than his power. That's the way Alonso prefers it, making a point of saying, when I asked him: "I take pride in being a complete hitter."
Still, his power is what has created so much buzz, from the 118-mph exit velocity on his laser in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, to his presence at the top of the Statcast leaderboard for his percentage of "barrels'' on balls put in play, which basically means he's crushing the ball more regularly than just about anybody else in the majors.
That also explains why scouts say he is being pitched more carefully now, which has led to a 4-for-20 mini-slump over the last six games with no home runs.
Nevertheless, as of Saturday, Alonso was still leading National League hitters by barreling 20.8 percent of balls he put in play. To put that in perspective, a "barrel" is measured in the Statcast vernacular as a ball hit at such an exit velocity and launch angle to produce a minimum of a .500 batting average and a 1.500 slugging percentage.
Thus the comparison to McGwire, who hit 49 home runs as a rookie with the A's in 1987, and 583 for his career. And while McGwire's totals are tainted by admitted use of steroids, he is still regarded in baseball circles as one of the great power hitters in the sport's history.
Alonso said he has heard the comparison on more than one occasion, starting with the Futures Game last year, in response to the moon-shot home run he hit to deep left at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
"Torii Hunter (the honorary manager) came up to me and said, 'Wow, I haven't seen that type of pop since Mark McGwire,'" Alonso told me at Citi Field last week. "To me, that's an awesome compliment. Being compared to Big Mac, that's really special."
Born in 1994, Alonso remembers falling in love with baseball as a young kid watching mashers like McGwire and Mike Piazza, but as he grew up in Tampa, Fla. and then played at the U. of Florida, the player he watched most closely was White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who put up great all-around numbers over an 18-year career.
It speaks to Alonso's maturity that he saw Konerko, who was considered the linchpin of the 2005 championship White Sox, as the type of all-around player he wanted to become.
"He seemed like a really good guy to emulate," Alonso said. "I could just see that he was different. A great hitter who played first base very well, and a champion and a leader."
When Konerko retired after the 2014 season, Alonso said he began watching Paul Goldschmidt for much of the same reason, and indeed the more you talk to the Mets' rookie first baseman, the more obvious it is he's a student of hitting.
That is what impresses DeRosa most, even more than his eye-popping power. So while the former big leaguer compared Alonso to McGwire on the MLB Network breakdown for the raw power, and Turner for the similar hands-low trigger to their swings, DeRosa also invoked Posey's name when we spoke on the phone, and that was perhaps his highest compliment.
"I'm always super-impressed when guys offensively are so advanced at a young age," DeRosa said. "I remember seeing that in Buster Posey, when he came into spring training in 2010 with the San Francisco Giants, already doing the stuff that I had to learn at the big-league level. I didn't truly understand hitting until I was 30 years old, so I'm enamored when a guy like Alonso comes up and does everything correctly.
"He looks like he can handle New York, and it seems like he wants the moment. He's had those late-inning heroics, he handles high velocity, and he works the ball the other way. He doesn't just pull home runs. That's why I don't think he's going away.
"Of course there are going to be times when he's not hitting, but his approach will minimize slumps. He doesn't have to cheat to a heater because he knows he can take 95 mph to dead right field, and that allows him to recognize pitches a little longer. And then he's got that raw power. Some of the balls he's hit only a handful of guys can hit the ball to dead center like he has."
That rare power makes the comparisons to McGwire and Piazza understandable, but in talking to Alonso, what's most impressive is that he seems to keep them in perspective. In fact, he took at least as much pride in delivering a game-ending sacrifice fly to right field against the Reds Tuesday night, especially after falling behind in the count 0-2, as he did in any of his monster home runs.
"That's part of being a complete hitter," he said. "That means going the other way at times, fighting off good pitches. I hate striking out, I hate grounding into double plays.
"When I got two strikes in that at-bat I choked up on the bat, I didn't want to hit a ground ball. I told myself to wait on the ball, be quick through the zone, stay behind it, and hit a fly ball to right."
With that approach, you can understand why so many people think he'll make the adjustments to tougher pitching and be around for the long haul. Oh, and hit many a McGwire-like home run along the way.