When general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was hired this past offseason, one of the questions facing him was what to do with the first base situation. He had two young first basemen on his roster, one who struggled at the major league level and one who was passed over for a call-up in September. Not taking the slight lying down, Pete Alonso headed to the Arizona Fall League to further improve his skills. The rookie GM met up with him there and came away impressed by the young slugger. Afterwards he announced that Alonso would be given every chance to compete for the starting job.
Despite the bravado there was some doubt the Mets would actually follow through on awarding Alonso the job considering the service time implications, but the GM doubled down a month later on his plan. That left it up to Alonso to win the job once spring training rolled around and he did just that. His power and potential were on full display, highlighted by a Herculean blast against the Red Sox.
However, Dominic Smith was doing everything he could to win the job as well. Finally getting help after suffering from sleep apnea, he too had a solid spring despite not showing the same amount of power as his teammate. Based on the pair’s spring performances and with both Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier not ready for Opening Day, the Mets had very little reason to not take the two north other than service time manipulation for Alonso.
Late in spring Mickey Callaway backed up his GM’s earlier statements and said he saw no reason why Alonso wouldn’t be on the roster come March 28. When it was finally announced that both Alonso and Smith made the roster, that led to more questions about how they would be used. A platoon would not be the best use of Alonso since the Mets would be burning a year under contract for him to sit on the bench. Callaway hinted at how they would use the two before the season started and he squashed the idea of a platoon. After the opening series against the Nationals, we now have a better idea of how the Mets intend to use their two first basemen.
Alonso started every game against Washington, and after struggling against Max Scherzer, he has looked every bit of the exciting player he displayed in both spring and in the minors. He finally hit his first big league home run against the Marlins which was quite a bomb and even the doubles he has hit have been scalded off the bat.
Pete Alonso hit a 113.8 mph double.— David Adler (@_dadler) March 30, 2019
The Mets have only hit nine balls harder than that in the 4+ seasons of Statcast tracking.
Most impressive is Alonso’s use of the whole field and his ability to hit breaking balls so far in this young season. He even made adjustments from spring against one of the tougher pitchers in the National League East.
His defense has been fine as well and made a couple of plays that stand out. After a nice play by J.D. Davis in Saturday’s game, the throw was a bit offline and Alonso on his end saved the play and got the out with a good stretch. Another impressive play is one where he never even touched the ball. On the rundown when Victor Robles broke for home, Alonso ran in from first and covered home plate. As Tim Britton of the Athletic pointed out, the first baseman positioned himself in front of Jacob deGrom who was nervous about being involved in a collision at home plate. As poor Josh Reddick learned, collisions with Alonso don’t end well for the runner.
The best part of the Cano 5-4-2-5 double play, to me, is Alonso sprinting in so that deGrom wasn't left covering home.— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) March 28, 2019
DeGrom: "I was thinking this ball might be thrown to me, and I think you're allowed to get run over at home plate. McNeil did a nice job tagging him for me." pic.twitter.com/lQoWIlt3VF
So with Alonso’s hot start, where does that leave Dominic Smith? Callaway probably tipped his hand about the pair’s usage on Opening Day. Smith was used as a pinch hitter late and worked out a crucial walk against Scherzer. That ended Scherzer’s day and was a start to a rally that led to an insurance run on a day runs were hard to come by. As the better defender, Smith stayed in at first which might be the plan going forward in close games. They could employ him like they have Juan Lagares in recent years when they have had a healthy outfield. To his credit, Smith has held his own early on when he has been used as a pinch hitter. In both of the Mets’ wins against the Nationals and the one against the Marlins, Smith was involved in key rallies that added runs late.
While this is a fine usage of personnel, issues can arise in the cases where the bullpen blows a lead late. If Alonso is taken out for defense, the Mets will also be losing one of their more impactful bats in the lineup. With his power he could completely change the game with one swing. With the revamped bullpen hopefully this scenario does not arise often, but it is still one Callaway needs to be mindful of when he pulls Alonso from the game. Smith will be getting his first start of the season in the second game against Miami so it will be interesting to see if he can keep up his good hitting from the spring.
The season is still very young but the two young first basemen have both contributed to the Mets’ wins and give Mickey Callaway options when putting together his lineups. The excitement and joy they share is an added bonus that makes this team easy to root for. While Alonso has left little doubt that the first base job should remain his, questions will arise when Frazier and Lowrie return from their injuries. That’s a problem for further down the road but for now, first base is well manned and the question of who’s on first no longer has to be asked.