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The Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects, #97: Yonder Alonso

Name: Yonder Alonso
DOB: 4/8/87
Organization: Reds
Position: Outfield
Notable 2011 Stats: .296/.374/.486 with 24 2B, 12 HR, and a 60/46 K/BB in 91 games with Louisville (AAA);
.330/.398/.545 with 4 2B, 5 HR, 21/10 K/BB in 47 games (98 PA) with Cincinnati (MLB)

Why He’s This High: Obviously, putting up an OPS over .900 in 98 major league plate appearances does a nice job of announcing a player’s arrival on the MLB landscape. If Alonso were to continue hitting .330/.398/.545 for the next several years, he would be one of the best hitters in the game, so he’ll be quite valuable if he can come anywhere near that.

A converted first baseman, Alonso’s value lies mostly in his bat. He’s got good power, enough to be a 20-HR guy, and his 60/46 K/BB in Triple-A indicates that his approach and contact skills are solid for a slugger. He’s capable of playing both first and the outfield and even spotted at third base this season, so he has some defensive versatility.

As a player who is just about a dozen at-bats away from losing his rookie eligibility, Alonso’s proven himself in nearly the largest sample possible for somebody still considered a “prospect,” and thus has arguably the highest floor of anyone on the entire list. I suppose you could argue somebody like Matt Moore, who’s been dominant in his time in the majors, would have a higher floor, but then again, pitchers are more likely to suffer career-altering injuries.

Why He’s This Low: The move to left field slightly lowers the bar offensively for Alonso, but it’s still unclear what sort of excellence his bat will be able to provide. A 24-year-old corner guy in Triple-A who slugs just .486 doesn’t really project to be an All-Star level slugger, and while he certainly transitioned smoothly to the majors, it was a small sample and his strikeout rate shot up from 14.7% in Triple-A to 21.4% in the majors. His big batting average was fueled by a .387 BABIP that was wildly out of line with his past record (.339 and .324 in his two Triple-A seasons); regress it back to his established minor league levels, and he’s back around a .270-.280 average, which is what we should expect going forward.

Alonso was repeating Triple-A after hitting .296/.355/.470 at the level in 2010, and he made only incremental gains, adding just 19 points of OBP and 16 points of slugging.

Add it all up, and you have a player who projects well across the board offensively, but doesn’t look to be that far above average in any of the triple-slash stats. I see him as maybe a .275/.350/.460 hitter, or basically Logan Morrison 2.0.

That comparison holds on defense as well, where Alonso, like Morrison, is a first baseman converted to left field who is unlikely to bring his defense up to an MLB-average level. He’s a defensive asset at first base, but last I checked the Reds have a pretty impressive guy entrenched at that position.

In addition to the small sample and BABIP concerns in the big leagues, Alonso has yet to prove he can be an everyday player, as he’s gone just 3-for-22 with six strikeouts against lefties in his major league career. He’s hit .337/.388/.526 against righthanders, which is a good, but since when is a platoon left fielder with poor defense a huge prospect? That’s not to say he won’t hit lefties–it’s a crazy small sample against them, for one–but it’s a skill he still needs to prove he has in the majors.

Conclusions: Alonso is a polished offensive player, and he’s as MLB-ready as just about any prospect on this list not named Matt Moore, but he lacks that one exceptional ability that would allow me to overlook his defensive issues and move him up the list. He’s the sort of player who could really use a trade to a team where he could play first base, because as a left fielder, a poor stretch of 200 at-bats will get him lost in the shuffle. Dusty Baker basically buried him on the bench in September in favor of Chris Heisey, a far superior defensive player with demonstrably inferior on-base skills, and while we shouldn’t take Dusty’s playing time arrangements as any sort of gospel, this particular one does show the limits of Alonso’s skillset.

If everything works out in left field, Alonso could still be doomed to a Josh Willingham career, where he’s perennially underappreciated and shuffled around second-division squads in spite of well-above-average offensive numbers. He’s probably ultimately most valuable at first base, where his glove is quite solid, but it’s difficult to see him having enough bat to become an elite at the position. Alonso should be an average or slightly above-average regular at either position, and that’s high praise–there aren’t that many players in baseball with enough bat to pull that off, and very few first base prospects actually make it. Nothing in his minor league track record–36 HR, a 203/148 K/BB, and .293/.370/.466 triple-slash in 313 games–suggests stardom, and he’ll be 25 right as the 2012 season starts, so he’s as much of a finished product as anyone on this list; still, he should be able to step in as a solid regular next season, whether for the Reds or a team in need of a first baseman.

Apologies to Reds fans if this writeup seems overly negative; I’ve seen some wildly optimistic rankings (like 10-30 range), and between that and the inflated MLB statline this season, I feel that many have raised their hopes for Alonso to an unrealistic level, so I’m trying to fight that perception to some degree. He’s still a fine offensive prospect who should carve out a good career, although he ultimately may be most valuable to Cincinnati as trade bait, unless they want to trade Joey Votto (which many have speculated). As an A’s fan, I know I’d take Alonso as Oakland’s first baseman of the present and future.

Previous installments in the Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects:

#100 Tyler Pastornicky
#99 Henry Rodriguez
#98 Francisco Lindor

For more on the Reds, check out Blog Red Machine.

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Topics: Cincinnati Reds, Yonder Alonso

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