It didn’t take long for Pete Alonso—home run machine, polar bear, and all-around mensch—to endear himself to Mets fans. Starting with a spring training performance in 2019 that forced the team to roster him from day one, he made himself seen and heard through his ebullient love of the game, his low-key clubhouse leadership, and, of course, his rookie record-breaking 53 dingers.
With the notable, and unfortunate, exception of the dingers, Alonso has carried this performance through some of the darkest months MLB has faced, taking a hard stand on social media in defense of his union during the negotiations and also vocally supporting Black Lives Matter as protests swept the country. If there was any doubt after last season that Alonso was smart, empathetic, and ready to use his prominence in support of others, his remarkable eloquence, passion, and composure over this extended offseason has put them to rest.
So that just leaves the dingers. Asking the 25 year old to repeat his .941 OPS, 4.8 fWAR rookie campaign is a tall order, but his performance was relatively free of red flags and even a moderate regression would keep him firmly ensconced as one of the bright young stars in the game.
The key for Alonso is not his prodigious power. The sturdily-built slugger will never lack the ability to send the ball a very, very long way. Rather, the difference maker for Alonso, the factor that elevates his game beyond one dimension, is his patience at the plate. Next to teammates like Brandon Nimmo, his 10% walk rate may not seem exceptional, but for a young player with his profile, it shows immense maturity and comfort as a hitter. Without that approach, he would never have had a shot at 53 home runs because he wouldn’t have seen a strike after July. He ties pitchers up in knots.
But will the long layoff take him out of that rhythm? It’s definitely a concern and despite his even-keeled personality, he will have to battle the excitement of starting the season and the eagerness to live up to his own high standard. Moreover, the sharply curtailed season won’t be as forgiving of a slow start (though it also offers the promise of all kinds of wild small-sample feats).
There’s one other change over the previous months that could end up making a difference in Alonso’s season this year - the introduction of the designated hitter in the National League. Though his skills at first base were not quite as deficient as early reports had suggested, defense remains one of his few limitations.
While the team is not lacking in DH candidates (indeed, the Mets have been rostering DH’s at a mystifying pace for the better part of a decade), having the option available will allow the surer-handed Dominic Smith to take some reps there while keeping Alonso’s bat in the lineup. And with the breakneck pace to the season, a pseudo-off-day here and there will offer a bit of rest as they sprint through the summer.
Though Alonso may or may not match his monster 2019, he has all of the pieces of the puzzle to do so. And regardless of what happens on the field, he has made it clear that his voice as a leader in the clubhouse and as a social media presence is stronger than ever.