Saturday, July 26, 2008

Meet Yonder Alonso

Well, it's time to take a deeper look at Reds 1st round draft pick Yonder Alonso.

Alonso stands 6-2, weighs 215, bats left, and throws right. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round of the 2005 draft by the Minnesota Twins. Yonder elected to attend the University of Miami instead and that decision paid off handsomely, as the Reds selected him with the 7th overall pick this past June as a draft eligible junior.


UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Alonso had a truly stellar collegiate career.

In 2006, Yonder was 19-years old and posted a .295/.373/.492/.865 line as a freshman. He managed to hit 10 homers and demonstrated the polished plate approach that belies his age by posting a K/BB ratio of 37/32. His performance as a freshman was very strong and indicated that big things were to come. He wouldn't make us wait long to see them.

In 2007, Yonder took a big step forward and posted a line of .376/.519/.705/1.124 as a 20-year old sophomore. His walks (64) rapidly outpaced his strikeouts (31) and his homerun total jumped to 18.

In 2008, Yonder was even better at the plate, putting together a wonderfully absurd line of .370/.534/.777/1.311. His K/BB ratio got even stronger, posting a 35/76 ratio. Yonder was so disciplined that he led the nation in walks (76) and walks per game (1.19). He also finished 6th in the nation with 24 homeruns.

He truly was one of the elite hitters in all of collegiate baseball and certainly the most disciplined and polished. When he finally decides to sign, he should move very quickly through the Reds system.


PHYSICAL STATURE AND DEFENSIVE SKILLS

Alonso is a large individual with an odd body type. He's very thick and barrel chested, but doesn't seem to be at all out-of-shape or overweight. He's just big and slow. However, while he has below average speed, he actually does seems to have pretty good agility. In addition, he has a pretty good arm and should be able to handle most balls that he can reach.

Unfortunately, Alonso is only an average defensive first baseman and his skillset precludes a move up the defensive spectrum to a more challenging position. The problem is that he is likely to get worse as he ages and his body continues to fill out. His body type and skill set don't leave much margin for error on defense, so if he loses any agility or foot speed, then he'll immediately become a DH in a non-DH league.

C--SS--2b--CF--3b--RF--LF--1b

When you start out at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, there isn't anywhere to go but DH. In addition, when you draft someone from the bottom of the spectrum, you are drafting him for his bat.

Thankfully, Yonder brings a great deal to the table offensively.


SWING AND MECHANICS

Yonder is patient. Very patient. He waits for pitches he likes and makes sure that he doesn't miss them when he gets them. His pitch recognition is obviously very strong, as indicated by his remarkably strong K/BB ratio.

At the plate, Yonder utilizes a fairly quiet stance. He doesn't have much excess movement while waiting for the pitch. While the stance matters far less than the position one is in when the pitch enters the hitting zone, I always prefer a quiet approach.

Yonder is another player who utilizes a very small stride. His stance is wider than shoulder width, so his stride is really just picking the foot up and putting it back down. However, while his stride foot doesn't move towards the pitcher, it does move in towards home plate. Yonder uses a slightly open stance, so he uses his stride to close his body up and get into better hitting position.

His swing generates significant power, but interestingly enough that power is much more evident to center and left field (his opposite field). Eventually, the Reds should be able to help him turn on the ball a bit better, but for now he is more comfortable driving the ball to the opposite field.

In his stance, Yonder holds his hands a bit higher than most. While waiting for the pitch, Yonder holds his hands up behind his left ear. This hand position results in the bat being essential horizontal to the ground, rather than pointing to the sky like most hitters.

Yonder's stride towards homeplate to close up his open stance when coupled with his higher hand position makes him more comfortable driving pitches that are middle away. When a hitter steps into a pitch, it is often times possible for a pitcher to work successful in on the hands. His hand position adds a bit of length to his swing, as he has to bring the hands and bat up into a better hitting position, which makes him a bit slower to the inside pitches.

Given his offensive abilities, it shouldn't be too difficult for the Reds to shorten his swing path to the inside pitches, which will help unlock his pull power. Regardless, his bat speed and slight uppercut swing generate substantial power. Overall, Yonder's combination of power and patience was essentially unrivaled in the 2008 draft. You can access his draft video here.


BOTTOM LINE

Yonder is a hitter. Period. And, he's a very good one. He brings substantial on base skills to an organization that could use more of them. His combination of power and plate discipline is very impressive. He seems a very good bet to be a complete hitter, posting good power numbers, on base percentages, and high batting averages.

That said, he is an interesting choice for the Reds. In the past few years, the Reds have focused on players at the skill defensive positions (CF: Drew Stubbs, C: Devin Mesoraco, etc). So, this is a bit of departure, but also indicates that the Reds may be heading back to a philosophy of drafting the best player available. The Reds already have Joey Votto locked in at first base and, as a college firstbaseman, Yonder should arrive at the MLB level sooner than normal.

If a team is going to draft a college first baseman, then they are drafting him for his bat, plain and simple. Accordingly, a polished hitter like Yonder should be in the majors within a year-and-a-half. It would be hard not to be disappointed if he wasn't in the majors by then.

Ultimately, Reds fans will love Yonder's offensive game and he adds a much needed impact bat to the system. That said, he's an interesting choice for an organization that already has Joey Votto at first. He would seem to be a better choice for a team like the Royals, who have no first baseman at the MLB level and would benefit from a prospect who could move quickly to join Alex Gordon and Billy Butler before they hit free agency.

Ultimately, it's hard not to love Yonder's power and patience, but the surrounding circumstances will have to work themselves out for this choice to have the maximize positive impact on the organization. While he has yet to sign, it's difficult to envision him believing that he could do better by heading back into the draft for 2009. It should be only a matter of time before he is hitting homeruns in the Reds organization.

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