Yonder Alonso's move to the Padres allows him to find a permanent home at first base. (Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE)
Alonso, young Padres focused on winning
TRACY RINGOLSBY  |
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 11:30am
He is young.
He is talented.
And he welcomes the challenge of being a cornerstone of what the Padres hope is the start of a rejuvenation of a franchise that has been hit by ownership uncertainty, a small-market budget, and a recent drought in production from its farm system.
It is a different world for Alonso than what he experienced in Cincinnati.
Alonso was a first-round draft pick of the Reds in 2008, the seventh player taken overall. He was annually considered among their top five prospects, ranking No. 1 in the organization in 2009.
But he found himself out in left field in the big leagues in Cincinnati, where Joey Votto is entrenched at first base.
Now he is in San Diego, where he is the primary first baseman, although Jesus Guzman does get an occasional start against left-handed pitchers.
"It's not as tough an adjustment as people seem to think," said Alonso. "I feel like Cincinnati did draft me and gave me a great opportunity. The people in Cincinnati taught me how to play the game and be a professional, not only the staff, but the players themselves.
"Coming here opens a whole new world for me. I can bring what I learned in Cincinnati. I like to be a guy who leads by example."
Cincinnati signed long-term deals this spring like a 10-year extension for Votto, which kicks in in 2014 and guarantees him $251.5 million over the next 12 seasons with the Reds holding an option for 2024, or a six-year deal with Brandon Phillips that keeps him from free agency in the fall and guarantees him $72.5 million.
They are both All-Stars who have won Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, and Votto was the NL MVP in 2010.
San Diego handed out long-term deals this spring, too, but they were designed to emphasize to fans and players that the Padres are looking for stability on a roster on which only four players have been around more than three years -- catcher Nick Hundley, third baseman Chase Headley, outfielder Will Venable, and left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher.
The Padres signed Hundley to a three-year, $9 million deal that covers his three arbitration seasons. Lefty Cory Luebke was given a four-year, $12 million deal that includes options for 2016 and also his first potential free agent season, 2017. Center fielder Cameron Maybin's five-year, $25 million deal covers his potential arbitration seasons and first year of potential free agency.
They are all talked about in terms of could do rather than what they have done.
And while the Reds are considered a legitimate contender in the NL Central, the Padres are a consensus last-place pick in the NL West.
The Padres are hoping the future is theirs, which is why they would deal their No. 1 starter of last year, Mat Latos, to Cincinnati for a package of prospects that included Alonso.
Alonso, however, isn't buying into the idea of patient rebuilding.
"We still have to think about doing it today," he said. "My mindset is getting the job down now. I know there is talk about rebuilding, but we have a roster of 25 guys with a job to do. We have 25 guys who take the field every game looking to win.
"We aren't looking at what might happen in two or three years. If we do that, in five years we will still be bad, looking to win."
And Alonso is a can-do guy.
He is realistic, but it doesn't dampen his desires.
In Cincinnati he was blocked at first base by the presence of Votto, which is why he was forced to play left field when he was called up. He accepted that challenge, although he does admit he is more comfortable at first base.
"First base is my position, the one I have played my whole life," he said. "It's where I feel at home. I was happy for the challenge in left field, but in left field I had to work to get better every day. At first base, it's not about getting better, it's about working to be perfect."
Most impressive is that in learning to play left field, Alonso did not get so caught up in the challenge that he forgot to hit. In 47 games with the Reds last year, he hit .330, and he had five home runs in 98 at-bats.
It's not like he is going to be challenging for any home run titles, particularly in the vast confines of Petco Park, but it does put to rest power concerns that some raised after a minor-league career in which his home run best was 15 in 2010.
"I don't worry about home runs," he said. "I will hit. If I hit 15 (home runs)? So be it. If I hit 30? So be it."
Petco Park, actually, could be a godsend for him.
While it is not home run friendly, it has more outfield ground to cover than any in baseball, which makes it a potential paradise for a hitter who has the ability to hit line drives from foul line to foul line, which is what Alonso is.
"A good player is going to find a way to be successful, wherever he is," said Alonso. "It's going to happen. I'm not going to get caught up in numbers. I'm going to focus on making each at-bat a good one."
Alonso, after all, is a good player, who is intent on making the Padres into a good team.
Yonder Alonso is what the San Diego Padres are all about.
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Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.