Yonder isn't as important as hits to Alonso

Yonder, as in “off we go into the wild blue . . .,” would seemingly be the perfect name for a slugger.

But when new Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso speaks of hitting, he doesn’t talk in terms of home runs.

“I am not thinking 40 or 50 home runs when I’m thinking about hitting,” Alonso said earlier this week at Petco Park.

“A lot of left-handed hitters and first basemen are thinking home runs,” Alonso continued. “That’s not the type of left-handed hitter I am.

“When I look at Petco Park, I don’t see how far away the fences are. I see a lot of grass. I feel like this ballpark likes the kind of hitter I am.”
A line-drive hitter. A foul line-to-foul line, line-drive hitter.

“First thing with me is put the ball in play,” Alonso continued. “Hit it hard. Level it. I want good at-bats.”

Thinking like that is much of the reason why the Padres preferred Alonso over Anthony Rizzo when deciding their first baseman of the future.

The 22-year-old Rizzo probably has more power in his swing than Alonso as displayed by Rizzo’s 26 homers in 93 games with Triple-A Tucson last season. But Rizzo also struck out 89 times in 356 at-bats with Tucson and 46 times in 128 at-bats with the Padres while hitting .141.
That’s one strikeout every 2 ¾ at-bats as a Padre and once every four at-bats in Triple-A.

Alonzo has struck out only once every 6.3 at-bats during 192 games over the past two years at Triple-A and once every 4.1 at-bats in 127 at-bats over the past two seasons with the Reds. As a major leaguer, Alonso has hit .299 with five homers and 18 RBI and hit .330 with five homers in 88 at-bats last season with a .398 on-base percentage.

The final grade is still out. On MLB.com’s list of 100 top prospects, Rizzo was judged to be No. 37 while the 6-foor-2, 240-pound Alonso, who turns 25 on April 8, is rated No. 39.

But the Padres like Alonso.

“I really like the approach,” manager Bud Black said of Alonso during the Padres three-day, voluntary introduction program for recently acquired players and top prospects.

“He looks good, just as advertised,” continued Black. “Everything I’ve seen validates the reports that he’s a line-to-line hitter. The ball comes off his bat.”

Alonso believes he will be a better hitter at Petco Park than he was at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

“The fences are closer in Cincinnati,” reasoned Alonso. “The outfielders are packed into a smaller space. A lot of balls in the gaps get caught. There isn’t nearly as much grass in Cincinnati as there is here.

“I believe my style will play well here. You can get just as many RBI with a high average with runners in scoring position. And I love hitting in RBI situations.

“I’d rather be at a field where I can get my hits than get a homer. Coming here doesn’t change my game.”

Like Rizzo with the Padres, Alonso was considered the No. 1 prospect in the Reds organization in 2010. But Alonso had a problem that Rizzo wasn’t facing.

Alonso was backed up behind 2010 National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto in Cincinnati. Because of that, the Reds were talking about playing Alonso in left this season just to get his bat in the lineup, although his defensive debut in left last season was less than impressive.

Still, Alonso was a bit surprised when he came to the Padres along with right-handed starter Edinson Volquez, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and bullpen candidate Brad Boxberger in a trade for Padres ace Mat Latos.

“I knew about Rizzo,” said Alonso. “We’re both out of Florida. But let’s put this in perspective. I had an MVP in front of me in Cincinnati.”

Although the Padres said Alonso was the front-runner at first as soon as he was acquired, Yonder was ready to compete with Rizzo for the first base job when the Padres completely cleared Alonso’s path to the starting lineup by trading Rizzo to the Cubs for right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner.

“I guess that put me at ease,” said Alonso. “Obviously it’s good to know you are being counted upon.”

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