Alonso mentally ready for first spring
Top prospect prepared to learn and improve as he joins big leaguers
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- When it comes to readying himself for his first Spring Training, Reds prospect Yonder Alonso is definitely in the right frame of mind.
But this part of the mental preparation has less to do with hitting or fielding a baseball. Alonso's first camp will be spent on the big league side and the 21-year-old will be in a clubhouse with Major Leaguers for the first time, too.
"Oh man, it will be nerve racking pretty much," Alonso said last week. "I will stay in my corner, stay quiet and try to relax."
The seventh overall pick by the Reds in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft in June, Alonso did not sign until Aug. 15. But when he finally did put pen to paper, it was to a five-year Major League contract through 2012 worth $4.55 million, plus a $2 million signing bonus. That meant Alonso also had to be placed on the 40-man roster.
By the time Alonso signed, the 2008 Minor League season was near the end. He appeared in six games with Class A Sarasota and went 6-for-19 (.316).
"I wished I would have signed earlier but things happen for a reason," said Alonso, a Cuban native who was drafted out of the University of Miami. "Now I'm here and getting ready to start Spring Training. I'm very excited."
Unlike most of the players around him, Alonso won't begin his first Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., laboring on the Minor League side with about 130 other players. He won't be cramped into a spartan clubhouse or jockeying for a sandwich in the lunch line.
Alonso is starting at the top of the pyramid among the big league players and coaching staff. He is keeping an open mind about what he might experience, and trying to get prepared.
"I really haven't asked too many questions," he said. "I'm going really early so I can get settled in. I'm just going to give it my all and my best."
Following the season, the Reds sent Alonso to the Hawaiian Fall League, where he batted .308 (32-for-104) with four home runs, 21 RBIs and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .929. More importantly, he got some more exposure to the game -- and life -- of professional baseball. The league competition was generally at the Double-A level.
"I felt like those guys over there took care of me," Alonso said of playing for Waikiki, the league champions. "They knew what we were out there for, which was to win and get better. We all did that, got better and won the whole thing."
Recently rated as the Reds' top prospect by Baseball America, Alonso is most likely going to begin his first full professional season back at Sarasota or with Double-A Carolina.
Since he has all three Minor League options, the Reds have not put a timetable on when Alonso might reach the Majors, but the 2010 season doesn't seem to be out of the question if he progresses well.
Many have prematurely speculated that Alonso's impending arrival would mean Joey Votto will be shifted from first base to left field. It will be an interesting conundrum when the time comes, but for now, Votto is staying put. There was talk that Alonso could be a possible future third baseman but the Reds decided in the fall that he would stay put.
"We don't need to look at him anywhere else," Minor League director Terry Reynolds said in November.
A Major League contract does not guarantee anything, other than sound financial footing, and Alonso is prepared to put in the work to become a big league player that can stay.
"You can always improve," Alonso said. "Look at the best of the best and they're always trying to improve all sides of their game. It doesn't matter what little things I have to do. It's my overall game that has to improve."
Alonso has already met a handful of Reds players, including last year's top prospect, Jay Bruce. Like Bruce, everyone will be watching Alonso at camp when it opens in just over two weeks. But he will have the added pressure of being the most recent top Draft pick also playing with a big league contract.
"I will stay humble and hopefully everything will come my way," Alonso said.