Triple-A first baseman Peter Alonso is unlikely to be promoted to the Mets this season, according to multiple reports posted during the last few weeks.
"I doubt he will be up this year," MLB.com's Anthony DiComo tweeted Friday. "The Mets don't want to add him to the 40-man before they have to."
DiComo is referring to an MLB rule that states any minor leaguer not added to the team's 40-man roster before a relative date is eligible for that year's Rule 5 Draft, which you can learn about here.
Alonso is not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until after the 2019 season.
The thing is, he's ready to be on the Mets now. Today. And I can't for the life of me figure out who on the back-end of the current 40-man roster is so valuable that he must be held on to instead of learning about Alonso's ability to play in the big leagues.
The only three reasons I can think of that might make sense for keeping Alonso down are...
1) Getting time to showcase other tradable talent at first base
In July, teams interested in trading for Jose Bautista, such as the Yankees, asked if he's able to play first and third base. Bautista had played just four games at third base for the Mets through Aug. 1, spending most of his time in left and right field. He had not played first base since last season, where he appeared just four times since 2015.
Since Aug. 1, Bautista has played first base twice for the Mets, while adding four more games at third base. In addition, Jay Bruce has been playing first base during his rehab assignment.
According to Mickey Callaway's comments last week, Bruce is expected to get starts at first base when he's activated from the DL, which is looking to be sooner than later.
The Mets almost certainly do not want to promote Alonso, get him sporadic playing time and end up sitting him on the bench because they're trying to educate other teams on Bautista's and Bruce's health and ability to still play first base.
If this is the case, the Mets wisely are keeping Alonso down in Las Vegas, where he can continue his hot hitting and work with Tim Teufel on improving his fielding.
2) Keeping Alonso's service time at zero, which gets the Mets another year before he's eligible for arbitration and free agency
In the event the Mets promote Alonso before September, his service clock will begin ticking and accruing time on his eligibility to be paid more money in arbitration. If promoted now, he could be considered a Super Two, though that depends on how the league sets this year's cutoff date (which isn't known until after the season). It's usually after June, though. Instead, if this is the team's motivation, it's quite possible we don't see Alonso until next May, at which point another year of service time will have been punted.
This is a crappy reason for keeping a guy down, but also something done by nearly every team, especially when it comes to top prospects. It's part of the business of the game. However, the Mets did promote top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith last August without regard to service time or potential Super 2 status.
In a scenario where Alonso isn't promoted this season, it likely means the Mets must feel they know everything they need to know at this point in time about Alonso, and it's worth more to them to keep him being an inexpensive player for more time than seeing him hit and field against big-league talent in September.
3) Concern that his fielding will overwhelm him, impact his bat and throw off his development
If I had to guess, I'd say while the above two reasons are a legit factor, it's Alonso's fielding that is the bigger issue for the Mets.
I've heard from countless scouts and player development people during the past six months that Alonso's reactions and feet are slow in the field. His glove and arm are fine. He's not Lucas Duda or even Pedro Alvarez, so there's room for improvement. But, right now, he's just a little slow, which is a concern when making the jump to MLB, where the game moves much faster than it does in Triple-A.
"I don't think fans understand how quick things move up here compared to the minor leagues, and even Triple-A," Michael Cuddyer told me in early 2016, after announcing his retirement. "Guys are just more prepared, everyone is more knowledgeable about what to do with the baseball. They're the best in the world and you feel it when you arrive. And, it can be intimidating and possibly distracting for a young guy, especially kids that moved quick through the system."
Alonso was drafted by the Mets at 21 years old out of college during the second round of the MLB draft in 2016. He advanced to Double-A as soon as the following summer. He was bumped to Triple-A in June of this season, where he's hitting just .237, but with a .340 OBP and .522 slugging percentage with 15 HR and 12 doubles in 54 games. In addition to his powerful stats this past summer, he also represented the Mets during the Triple-A All Star Game, as well as the MLB Futures Game, where he turned heads by crushing monster home runs during an unofficial, pre-game home run derby and then hit a monster homer during the game.
It was just two and a half years ago that he was doing the same, but for the University of Florida.
As a result, there are lots of people around baseball, including some with the Mets, who wonder if Alonso is better served being marketed as a DH and traded to an American League team.
At the same time, most people in baseball believe the National League will soon switch to using the DH. In that case, a 23-year-old slugger like Alonso -- potentially without a position -- will be just as valuable of a long-term asset in the NL as he will be in the AL. Of course, that hasn't happened yet...
For now, Alonso is described as a young man with a selective, powerful, productive stroke that will absolutely produce in the majors. However, while he can field and throw fine, he may not be quick enough to be a useful MLB infielder yet. And, when he is promoted (whenever that is) will he be tough-minded enough to keep his struggles in the field from infecting his ability to hit?
What would I do?
If Alonso isn't promoted right now, then September has to be the time to figure out what he's about. It would help the Mets and their next GM to understand how best to handle first base in 2019 and beyond.
Former top 1B prospect Dominic Smith, who is also 23, is a gigantic question mark, so much so that he's now spending time learning and playing the outfield, despite being described as a potential Gold Glove-winning first baseman.
Yoenis Cespedes will be on the DL until next summer after having double heel surgeries and, when he returns, he too may need to play first base to keep him more useful and healthy. Bruce, if not traded this winter, may need to do the same as Cespedes.
The point is, if Alonso has trade value or is needed to start next season, it would be good for everyone (be it the Mets now, their next GM or other teams) to know what he's capable of doing when finally promoted. Worst case scenario, he looks terrible in a few games during September, and he's sent down at the cost of possible future earnings (and salary). So, what? He shakes it off and gets back on track next spring and we repeat this story knowing he would had to have been added to the 40-man later next season anyway.
However, if he looks great this September, if he adapts enough to justify his bat, the Mets will be in great position with momentum and equity to make moves and deals around first base.