Yonder Alonso envisions big things for Padres

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- With just 69 games of big league experience heading into 2012, Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso received an education on the full-season grind, complete with slumps, streaks and adjustments.

He, along with then-rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal and right-hander Edison Volquez, had to adjust to a new organization. All three were traded in December 2011 from the Cincinnati Reds.

Though San Diego entered last year's All-Star break 34-53 -- never reaching above .500 -- the Padres went 42-33 in the second half, finishing fourth in the National League West.

"I honestly think it was just the fact that we had experience with the first half," said Alonso, who spoke at the University of Miami's preseason baseball banquet Thursday night. "Certainly we had a lot of younger guys like myself -- a lot of rookies -- where we didn't know the system, the teams. The more we played the more familiar we got. We felt more confident with ourselves and got comfortable in our surroundings and started playing like we know how to play."

Yet, this offseason, San Diego's biggest transaction was recently avoiding arbitration with All-Star third baseman Chase Headley by agreeing to a one-year, $8.575 million contract.

Headley provided a steady presence in the middle of the lineup and at the hot corner for the Padres, hitting for a career-high .286 average with 31 homers and a league-leading 115 RBIs. The 28-year-old finished fifth in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting and received a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

Much like the surging Padres, Headley's success came after the Midsummer Classic, with 23 homers and 73 RBIs. Alonso, 25, still marvels at Headley's season, comparing his value to the likes of Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera.

"He was out of control," said Alonso, who batted .273 with nine homers and 62 RBIs in 155 games. "There were two or three months there that were unreal. He always plays every day, and that's one of the things that I thrived on this year -- to play as many games as I can."

San Diego also agreed to Minor League deals with starting pitchers Tim Stauffer, Arturo Lopez and two-time All-Star Freddy Garcia. Right-hander Jason Marquis, 34, re-signed with the Padres, but the organization missed out on free agents Dan Haren and Joe Blanton.

The Padres will be without Grandal (.297, eight homers, 36 RBIs) -- a former collegiate teammate of Alonso's at the University of Miami -- for 50 games as he serves a suspension for testing positive for testosterone.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers spent more money, the Arizona Diamondbacks worked trades and the San Francisco Giants kept most of their World Series championship squad intact.

Still, Alonso believes the team will compete, and that it hasn't lost its momentum from the second half of last season. In 2012, San Diego dropped five games to the Dodgers by one run and six to the Giants by two runs or fewer.

"We play fine with those guys," said Alonso, who leaves for Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., on Sunday. "It doesn't scare us one bit. We just have to execute, make our game plan work and go from there. I think our team is fine, I think our team is great. We have the pieces we need to challenge other teams and play good baseball.

"We have the No. 1 prospects in the country. We have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and I think that's how you're going to win. You're going to win with young guys, guys who want it really bad, and that's just how it is in San Diego. We're going to win."

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