Alonso thrilled to go to Reds at No. 7
University of Miami slugger a second-team All-American
By Mark Sheldon /

PHILADELPHIA -- More than 10 years ago, Yonder Alonso's father gathered his family and defected from Cuba on a small plane with hopes that there would be a day like Thursday.

Alonso, now a junior first baseman at the University of Miami, was the Reds' selection as the seventh overall pick on Thursday in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

"I've been following them for a while," Alonso said. "They're a great team. I just can't wait to go meet [Ken] Griffey [Jr.] and [Adam] Dunn."

A left-handed power hitter who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, the 21-year-old Alonso is currently batting .370 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs in 58 games for the Hurricanes. Miami is playing in the NCAA Super Regional tournament this week.

A graduate of Coral Gables (Fla.) High School, Alonso played collegiately in his hometown and was an occasional workout partner with Yankees superstar and Miami native Alex Rodriguez.

In 2008, Alonso was a second-team All-American by Louisville Slugger and Baseball America. He was also rated the No. 2 prospect last summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, a wooden bat amateur league.

"We've been following Yonder probably since the 11th grade," Reds senior director of scouting Chris Buckley said. "Two of my better scouts I've worked with for a long time have been following him for quite a while. It's really his body of work. He had three outstanding years at the University of Miami -- one of the top programs in the country. We like what he did last summer in Cape Cod with the wood bat. He's a high on-base percentage guy. Every time we go in there, the guy performs."

Alonso's father, Luis, was a professional ballplayer in Cuba under Fidel Castro's dictatorship. A communist nation that's under a U.S. trade embargo, citizens have few freedoms, although life for the nation's baseball players often comes with some perks.

Looking to make a better life for his children, Luis gathered the family in a small airplane and defected out of the country. Alonso was a 10-year-old boy at the time.

"Nobody knew about it," Alonso said. "He wanted to do it for me and my younger sister. He just wanted to give us an opportunity to do something in life, actually earn something and not have something over there that can get taken away from you at any time."

Left behind were aunts, uncles and cousins. Alonso came over with both parents and his younger sister.

"It was tough. You learn to grow up very, very quickly," Alonso said. "It's one of those things that when everything else in life comes your way, it's nothing compared to what you go through with all that. It's great I got the opportunity to learn that, and now I can go on with life. It means a lot. It's a little bit easier, because I could just think about that moment in my life."

Alonso will be represented by agent Greg Genske. There have been reports that Alonso and Genske have demanded an $8 million signing bonus and a Major League contract, which would mean Alonso would have to be put on the 40-man roster.

"Hopefully we can get something done with the Reds," Alonso said. "I'm not really ready to talk about that. Right now I'm trying to win a College World Series. We'll see what happens after that."

Cincinnati has not given a big league contract to a first-round Draft pick since 2000, when both shortstop David Espinosa and catcher Dane Sardinha were signed by then-GM Jim Bowden. Neither panned out for the organization.

The Reds already have a left-handed power-hitting first baseman in rookie Joey Votto. Undeterred, the club stuck to its guns about selecting what it viewed as the best player available despite the reported contract demands.

"Ownership and [general manager Walt Jocketty] were totally supportive," Buckley said. "Myself and the rest thought this was the best guy. Hopefully we'll be able to get him out there quickly, but maybe we don't. We're feeling pretty good we'll get him signed. We had contact with his agents. We had to touch base and go over certain things. We wouldn't have picked him if we didn't think we could sign him."

Alonso can also play catcher and third base, but first base is considered his primary position. Scouting reports about his defense aren't overly enthusiastic, however.

A total of five rounds will be completed on Day 1 of the Draft. Cincinnati does not have a second-round selection, which went to the Brewers as compensation for signing free-agent closer Francisco Cordero.

In the special Negro League Draft, held Thursday, the Reds took former Memphis Red Sox pitcher Charlie "Whip" Davis, who played from 1950-55. Each Major League club "drafted" surviving former Negro League players, who represented every player who did not have the opportunity to play Major League baseball.