How do you top winning Rookie of the Year, setting the rookie record for home runs, winning the Home Run Derby, and becoming one of the most popular players in the league and doing it all in New York?
This is the question facing Pete Alonso as he prepares for his second big-league season.
In what was a historic season for him in 2019, Alonso hit .260 with a .358 OBP, 53 home runs and 120 RBI. He also exceeded expectations in the field, which was the main concern hanging over him in the minor leagues.
He didn't just hit and field, though. He also emerged as a team leader despite being just 25 years old. Among other things, Alonso gained attention for his bold and honest comments, shirtless post-game celebrations and colorful #LFGM hashtag. The topper, though, was when he had made custom, commemorative cleats for Sept. 11, bought pairs for all of his teammates, and defied MLB by wearing them on field.
But, like any player, he isn't perfect. I'd like to see him show more restraint on pitches outside of the strike zone, which might help him reach base more often. However, given that he doesn't strike out at an alarming rate, it's also possible that he could see less power if he demonstrates more patience at the plate.
The NL talent evaluator I talked with earlier this week said he believes Alonso will follow a similar path to Mark McGwire, who with experience year after year, little by little, increased his OBP, walks and batting average, while never losing his ability to hit the ball high and far...
Experts in baseball that I know expect he'll have fewer home runs this season than he hit in 2019. And, while they all expect him to cut down on his strikeouts, they also expect a decrease in walks and OBP.
This is consistent with his projections on FanGraphs.com, which have hit hitting .252 with a .343 OBP, 44 HR and 3.4 WAR compared to his 4.8 WAR in 2019.
"His swing is tailor-made for the way pitchers are throwing the baseball these days," the same source said. "The only thing standing between him and his ceiling is injury."
Earlier this week, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine essentially told me the same, noting that Alonso passed a major test in 2019 by keeping strong after the All Star break.
"Alonso showed physically and mentally that he's right on top of the game," he explained.
Valentine's only concern for Alonso is injury, specifically a nagging injury early in the season.
"Because there are going to be such great expectations on him, if tries to play through it, he could get himself into a bit of a rut, which could then manifest itself in a major slump," he explained.
Otherwise, if healthy, Valentine sees no reason to think Alonso won't pick up where he left off in 2019.
"He's exactly what the doctor ordered to play in New York City," he concluded. "And hopefully he'll help lead the Mets to -- possibly -- another Subway Series."
For what it's worth, yes, Valentine is predicting another Mets-Yankees World Series. This would be particularly fitting given it's been exactly 20 years since the two teams last met in the Fall Classic.
"To bring out the 2000 team to watch the 2020 team to do what we did and more would really be something special," he added, which obviously would be amazing, but that's another topic for another day...
Back to Alonso...
Given his meteoric rise as a rookie in New York, I worried last summer that Alonso might one day go down the off-field path taken by Matt Harvey, Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden.
Harvey talked about wanting to win. However, he talked just as often about wanting to be like Derek Jeter. He talked about dating super models, being a fashion icon and essentially being famous -- not just a winner. However, after reading, watching and listening closely to Alonso during the past two years, I truly believe that he wants to be great because it will help the Mets be great.
It's easy to fear the myth of the sophomore jinx. For all of the reasons above, though, I don't see that happening to Alonso. He is too intelligent, quirky, focused, and aware of his talent and growing expectations to let it all get the best of him so early in his career.
"Last year, honestly, I was just flying blind, I had no idea what to expect," Alonso told middle school students earlier this week in Tampa. "Now, I know exactly what it's like. Now I know the demands of what 162 games is like. ... I know what I'm capable of this year."
The league knows what to expect, too, which for some young players could be a problem. For Alonso, though, seeing how he's matured and handled his success so far, I expect it will give him confidence and only help him to grow beyond expectations.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is a senior writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. His book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime.