Height 6-2, Weight 215, B/T: L/R, DOB: 4/8/1987
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: n/a
With the 7th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft the Cincinnati Reds selected University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso. It was a surprising selection, but it's turning out to be an impressive one. It wasn't surprising because Yonder was in any way undeserving of such a high pick, but rather because the Reds already had an impressive young first baseman at the MLB level. But, the Reds went with the best player available. Yonder was also one of the safest selections in the draft, as there really aren't any questions about his game at all. He is a very polished hitter who plays a defensive position that isn't very challenging, which in the final analysis means he doesn't require much development time.
The obvious question when the Reds drafted Yonder was what were they going to do with him. He is a very good hitting prospect, but won't require much time in the minors and is blocked at the MLB level by Joey Votto.
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.
After he was signed, the Reds sent Yonder to high-A Sarasota to finish out the 2008 season. He only got in 25 plate appearances, but demonstrated that he was overqualified for the level. He posted a slash line of .316/.440/.368/.808 with a 5/5 K/BB ratio. His power didn't emerge, but Sarasota is a challenging environment for hitters so the lack of homeruns isn't of concern, especially in light of his 33% line drive rate.
In addition, the Reds sent Alonso to get some playing time with the Waikiki Beach Boys in the Hawaiian Winter leagues. Given his advanced hitting skills, the Reds will likely send Yonder to double-A Carolina to start the 2009 season and promote him up the ladder very quickly.
PHYSICAL STATURE AND DEFENSIVE SKILLS
Alonso is a large individual with an odd body type. He's very thick and barrel chested, but he isn't at all out-of-shape or overweight. He's just big and rather slow. However, while he has below average speed, he actually does seems to have pretty good agility. In addition, he has an average arm and should be able to handle most balls that he can reach.
Unfortunately, Alonso is only an average defensive first baseman and his skill set 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.
When you start out at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, there isn't anywhere to go but DH. In addition, when you spend a high draft pick on a player from the bottom of the spectrum, then you are clearly drafting him for his bat.
Fortunately, Yonder brings a great deal to the table offensively.
SWING AND MECHANICS
Yonder is patient. Very patient. He waits for a pitch he likes and makes sure that he doesn't miss it when he gets it. His pitch recognition is very strong, as indicated by his remarkably strong K/BB ratio. In addition, he has very good hand-eye coordination, which enables him to make consistent, hard contact.
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 doesn't entail much forward movement. However, it does involve movement towards home plate. Yonder uses a slightly open stance, so his stride operates to close up his body 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.
While waiting for the pitch, Yonder holds his hands a bit higher than most, as his hand position is actually up behind his left ear. This position results in the bat being essentially horizontal to the ground, rather than pointing to the sky like most hitters.
When coupled with his higher hand position, Yonder's stride towards home plate makes him more comfortable driving pitches that are middle away. When a hitter steps towards homeplate to close up his stance, it's often possible for a pitcher to be successful working in on the hands. In addition, Yonder's hand position adds a bit of length to his swing as he has to bring his hands down and back to get into hitting position, which can make him slower to 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 almost unrivaled in the 2008 draft. You can access his draft video here.
In addition, here is a video clip of a long Yonder at bat. Not surprisingly, in the at bat he sees a lot of pitches (6) and ends up hitting a long drive to left-centerfield. All in all, it seems to be a very typical at bat for Yonder Alonso and one that will likely be repeated at the MLB level for years to come.
Yonder has the potential to be one of the rarest of the rare. He could be a late count hitter who draws a ton of walks and strikes out very infrequently. Typically, the two go hand-in-hand, but there are a select few who can work deep into counts while managing to avoid strikeouts. They don't come around very often, especially those who can also drive the ball out of the ballpark, but at the University of Miami Yonder walked 172 times and struck out only 103 times. His ability to control the strike zone, make consistent contact, and drive the ball with power make him a very complete hitter.
It'll be interesting to see how the Reds handle the 1b conundrum. Reading the organizational tea leaves leads me to believe that they will shift Joey Votto to left and play Yonder at first. However, I'd rather see them follow the Brewers course of action with Matt LaPorta and trade one of them for value that better addresses the needs of the organization. Regardless of how they choose to use the value of Yonder Alonso, it's quite clear that he has a lot of it. Yonder's blend of offensive skills and polish makes him a high ceiling prospect with very little downside risk. That combination earns him the #1 spot on the list.