TAMPA—Peter Alonso might not be the most famous Florida alumnus on the St. Lucie Mets’ roster, but he’s definitely the most powerful. The hulking first baseman displayed big-time juice in college, where he swatted 23 longballs over three seasons with the Gators. He’s continued providing middle-of-the-order type thump as professional, including 15 home runs over just 71 games in his first full professional season.
But that power hasn’t always as come as easy as it looks in batting practice, when he punishes baseballs with regularity. Alonso, the Mets’ second-round pick last year, missed roughly six weeks after breaking his left hand just a week into the season. When he came back from the disabled list, he was understandably rusty. So he went to work on his swing
“I struggled a bit after I broke my hand and even before that. It was just a bit of a rough go at the start,” Alonso said. “It was just a persistent, everyday work ethic and getting in the cages and creating a consistent swing that (St. Lucie manager) Chad Kreuter calls ‘slump-proof. And I kind of believe it, because after the consistent work and routine I’ve been sticking with it’s been proven awesome.'”
To create that swing, Alonso and Kreuter went to work behind the scenes with a drill designed to keep Alonso making consistent, solid contact. The pair took a batting tee and Alonso took swing after swing attempting to hit the ball as sideways as possible. Like any adjustment, it took some time to see results. But once Alonso began feeling comfortable with the tweak in approach, the dividends came quickly.
After hitting .275/.352/.500 in June, Alonso got really hot in July. In the season’s fourth month, he hit .336/.394/.603 with eight home runs and 17 RBIs.
“I didn’t really have the start I wanted to, but I worked at it every day and once it starts snowballing and snowballing and snowballing and everything started clicking and I started hitting my stride, it was just like, wow, this is amazing,” he said. “So because the success didn’t really come that often—there were some bright flashes but it didn’t really come that often at first—the success later on in the season is making it so much sweeter.”
Another key to Alonso’s summer surge involved teaching himself how to stop overthinking. Given the veritable Rubik’s Cube of situations a player faces on a pitch-to-pitch basis, that’s not always easy. But to be successful a player has to find a way to withdraw his mind—at least partially—from the game.
“It’s very difficult. It’s hard to explain, but the whole thought process with baseball—it’s like you have to anticipate, you have to think, you have to use your brain, but you have to know when to shut it off,” he said. “It’s very difficult. In the box, for each swing you step out and think about what you need to do but once you step in the box and once you’re ready to go, you can’t really think. You’ve just got to see the ball and let everything happen. It’s very difficult.”
In its place, he needs to let his body take over and do what it’s been doing for the better portion of the player’s life.
“The only thing that’s going to stop me from doing well at the plate is me and just being in my own head,” he said, “but I just shut the brain off when I get in the box and then it’s ‘see ball, hit ball.'”
Ever since June, that’s exactly what Alonso’s been doing.
- Yankees righthander Albert Abreu made a rehab start with the Gulf Coast League on Thursday and began the process of shaking off the rust after roughly a month on the shelf. Abreu, acquired from the Astros in the offseason with righthander Jorge Guzman for catcher Brian McCann, allowed two runs (one earned) on a hit and a walk in 1.1 innings.Abreu’s fastball sat between 92-96 in the first inning and was 92-94 to the one batter he faced in the second inning before reaching his pitch count and exiting. He also mixed in a curveball in the 78-80 mph range and a changeup in the mid-80s. Abreu, 21, was 1-3, 3.82 this year in the minors between low Class A Charleston and high Class A Tampa. He touched 100 mph with his fastball this season.
- The most intriguing arm the Blue Jays threw belonged to a pitcher who was playing shortstop in the Rockies’ organization as recently as May 12. Emerson Jimenez was released by Colorado on May 25, signed with the Blue Jays on June 23 and on Thursday made his second GCL appearance.Jimenez, 22, showed an easy delivery that belied his 94-98 mph fastball. He coupled the pitch with a swing-and-miss changeup in the high-80s and a developing slider in the low-80s. He struck out three in two innings of two-hit ball.
- Yankees shortstop Jose Devers, the cousin of Red Sox big leaguer Rafael Devers showed smooth action and a strong arm at shortstop. He also put together a nice little piece of hitting when he flipped an 84 mph changeup running away from him into right field for a single.
- Yankees righthander Wellington Diaz, who relieved Abreu, was aggressive in the zone with a low-90s fastball that touched as high as 94 mph. He used a high-80s changeup as his primary offspeed pitch and got multiple swings and misses with it.