Sitting at Citi Field, perched in front of a microphone, TV cameras at the ready, notebooks flipped open. And Peter Alonso still was able to check his swing Wednesday afternoon.
It doesn’t happen very often. Alonso has rapidly made a name for himself, both on and off the field, for taking big hacks. He slugged 36 homers this season, split between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas, to earn the Sterling Award as the Mets’ top organizational position player.
Along the way, however, Alonso got some unwanted attention when his agents publicly criticized the Mets for not granting him a September call-up. Alonso soon followed that up by exchanging Twitter barbs with WFAN radio host Chris Carlin, an unconventional course of action for a minor leaguer, to say the least.
“I think it just kind of got blown out of proportion,” Alonso said. “They gave their honest opinion. Someone said something about them, and I thought it was just wrong.”
When the Mets trotted Alonso out for Wednesday’s news conference, he showed zero regret, so we’ll give him credit for digging in at the plate. He also smartly passed on adding any more fuel to this fading debate, a point no doubt stressed to him in his meeting with the Mets’ front office during his brief taste of Flushing.
“I had a conversation with Omar [Minaya] and he said it was just like a business decision, an organizational decision,” Alonso said. “I respect that. I’m just going to keep continuing to get better.”
Ah, yes. The business decision. There’s no need to rehash that all over again, other than to say the Mets had a twofold advantage in delaying Alonso’s promotion. They didn’t need to use a 40-man roster spot on him, thereby saving it for someone they have to protect from the Rule 5 draft this winter. And the Mets also held off on starting his service-time clock, a practice that every other team routinely employs.
But that’s little consolation to Alonso, or the rest of us, who were anxious to see if his light-tower power would translate to Citi Field. In that sense, we feel robbed, especially as the Mets trudge onward to another 70-plus win season.
The company line has involved whispers about his questionable defensive ability at first base, but that could be said about half of the Mets’ major-league roster. It’s a position that’s currently manned by Wilmer Flores and Jay Bruce, with the occasional cameo by Dom Smith -- the only real first baseman of the bunch. So we’re not talking a high bar here.
“But at the end of day,” Alonso said, “I’ve got to prove that I can.”
He’s doing a pretty good job climbing the learning curve in every other aspect. After demolishing the Eastern League with 15 homers and a 1.012 OPS in the first 65 games, Alonso experienced a bit of an adjustment period at Vegas, despite the PCL’s reputation as a hitter’s paradise. After 37 games in the desert, Alonso was batting .220 (31-for-141) with 47 Ks and a .797 OPS. Though expected in most transitions, it was sobering nonetheless.
“A lot of the pitchers are more refined,” Alonso said. “That was the first time I had ever seen right-on-right changeups. It’s a different level of breaking balls.”
Then Alonso did what the Mets, or any team, dreams about for their top prospects. He figured it out and hurdled the challenge. Over his final 30 games, Alonso hit .308 (36-for-117) with 12 home runs and a 1.115 OPS. That also included crushing a walk-off homer in the season finale, on what will end up being the last pitch ever thrown at the 51s Cashman Field. Alonso enjoyed retelling that story Wednesday, calling it “sweet redemption” against the Sacramento pitcher who got him earlier.
We haven’t seen all that much of Alonso, other than his impressive stats and a thoroughly entertaining Futures Game appearance at Nationals Park, where he drilled a rainbow 415-foot homer. He also got points for blowing kisses to his family in the stands as he circled the bases. So far, to us, there’s a lot to like. And that includes his attitude.
“I’m disappointed, not being here,” Alonso said. “I have to just trust the process. I’m just going to use that as motivation to get better for next year. Have a good winter, getting faster, stronger, and show up for camp ready to go.”
He can’t get here soon enough.