Yonder Alonso’s viability at 1B

The owners of baseball’s worst offense in 2014, the Padres are sure to be on the hunt for a bat or two as the offseason officially arrives, and they’d have good reason to look for some thump to stick at first base.

San Diego’s inhabitants at that premium power position drove in just 69 runs in 2014, the fourth-lowest total in the National League and the bulk of them from hitters other than their opening day starter: Yonder Alonso.

For the second year in a row, the 27-year-old Alonso endured right hand/wrist issues that, at its worst, all but sapped his ability to drive the ball. This time around, Alonso’s batting average slipped to a career low .240, he drove in just 27 runs in 84 games and his slugging percentage failed to crest .400 for a third straight season before he elected to undergo season-ending surgery.

The procedure – which addressed a ruptured tendon stemming from a pitch that broke a bone in his right hand in 2013 – and ensuing rehab should have Alonso at 100 percent come spring training. The question is whether or not a healthy Alonso can hit enough to be part of the solution in San Diego.

Isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) measures a hitter’s raw power and there are two observations to take away from Alonso’s contributions in that department in 2014.

While Alonso’s .157 isolated power nearly doubled his production in that category in 2013, his first injury-shortened season, it ranked 30th among first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances, according to fangraphs.com.

Not that power ever ranked among Alonso’s best assets, especially upon moving into Petco Park as part of the trade that sent Mat Latos to the Reds. Yet although he never hit more than 15 homers in a season in the minors, the 39 doubles that Alonso collected as a rookie in 2012 (.120 ISO) suggested that he possessed some untapped power potential.

And maybe there is.

After managing nine homers in 2012, Alonso was on a near-20-homer pace last year when a broken hand derailed his season. He was never the same last year and was rarely right in 2014, when he .167 the first month of the season and endured two trips to the disabled list with nagging right hand/wrist discomfort.
The first trip appeared to have righted his ship.

Alonso’s batting line swelled to .421/.477/.737 and his isolated power jumped to .316 over a three-week period – his healthiest all year – until one last pop in his right wrist ended his season. As small as that sample size was (44 plate appearances), Alonso believes that's much closer to the hitter he is.

“That’s something I feel I can do on a regular basis,” Alonso said in September following his surgery. “If I’m healthy, if I don’t have anything going on with my hands, I can become the player I was for those three weeks – but on a 27-week period.”

Yet Alonso may not get that chance with the Padres.

The general manager that traded for Alonso is out of the picture, catcher Yasmani Grandal saw more and more innings at first base as Rene Rivera hit his way out of the backup role and the Padres have a half-dozen players they have to shift from the 60-day disabled list to the 40-man roster by Monday.

On top of that, considering Alonso’s track record, first base is an optimum position to upgrade should new general manager A.J. Preller dangle any of his starting pitchers on the trade market.

All of that makes Alonso a non-tender candidate as the offseason gets underway.

That said, he’s still just 27, a former first-round pick and shouldn’t get that much of a pay increase on last year’s $980,000 salary even in his first year arbitration eligibility.

Even if the Padres find an alternative option at first base, Alonso’s history across the diamond – he played third base until the likes of Ryan Braun forced him to move to first at the University of Miami – could afford him one more chance to leave his mark on the Padres’ offense.

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