In the 43 seasons that the Padres have been a franchise, only two players have won the National League Rookie of the Year award: Butch Metzger (1976, shared), and Benito Santiago (1987). While the Padres have not had a winner of the aforementioned award in a quarter century, San Diego is entering the 2012 season with a player that has a great chance to contend for the coveted honor and emerge as a “star in the making” as well: Yonder Alonso.
Why do I consider Yonder Alonso to be a front-runner for the N.L. Rookie of the Year? Well, to me there are three important reasons which could put Alonso in the discussion: Major League Experience, Extended Playing Time in 2012, and Potential Offensive Output. Here is a quick breakdown:
Major League Experience
When the Padres shipped Mat Latos to Cincinnati in exchange for Edinson Volquez and three prospects, Alonso was thought by many to be the prospect to be the most Major League ready and able to step in and play for the Padres. Part of the reasoning behind that idea was because Alonso actually had a decent amount of Major League experience under his belt before coming to San Diego. In spite of the fact that he has played in 69 Major League games throughout his career, Alonso is actually still eligible for the R.O.Y. Award because his career At-Bats total is less than the maximum of 130 to make a player not a Rookie (117).
While most Rookies are either fresh from a season in the minors or are September call-ups the season before, Alonso did a nice job in spot-duty for Cincinnati over the last couple of seasons. In 2010 and 2011 combined, Alonso put up a career stat line of: .299 BA, 5 HR’s, 18 RBI’s, 6 2B’s, and a .833 OPS. But last season in 47 total games, Yonder hit .330 in 88 AB’s with a .545 SLG Percentage and a .943 OPS. If Alonso is able to produce at a rate close to his limited 2011 numbers over an entire season, he will definitely be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year honors.
Extended Playing Time in 2012
Probably the biggest thing which will work in Alonso’s favor and ultimately help him contend for the Rookie of the Year award is the fact that he is going to get a chance to play each and every day with San Diego in 2012. Without Joey Votto standing in his way and blocking his path at his natural position of First Base, Alonso is the undisputed starter at said position now for the Padres. Now that he will no longer have to pinch-hit and vie for playing time in Left Field, Alonso will be able to settle into the lineup and become an every-day player.
If Alonso ends up staying healthy, you have to believe that he will be suiting up in 130-140 games for the Padres at First Base and Designated Hitter during Interleague Play this season. The more games Alonso ultimately participates in throughout 2012, the more chances he will inevitably have to succeed at the plate and in the field. The more chances Alonso has to play over other Rookies which might start the year in Triple-A will hopefully increase his numbers and productivity and give him more opportunities over the next six to seven months to shine for the voters.
Potential Offensive Output
Alonso has not stopped hitting since he has moved West though and put together a solid Spring Training for the Padres. Over the last month, Alonso has led the Padres in At-Bats with 72, he has hit .319 with 1 HR, is tied for 2nd on the team with 11 RBI’s, and is tied for the team lead with 6 Doubles. It will be important that Alonso continues to hit, because he will be counted on to supply a larger than normal amount of Offense for San Diego in Carlos Quentin‘s absence.
Luckily for him, batting in the #4 or#5 slots, Alonso will have plenty of RBI opportunities and chances to help San Diego’s once lowly Offense all season long. And in the event that guys like Venable and Bartlett carry their strong Spring performances into the regular season, it would not shock me at all if Alonso put up RBI numbers in the 80-100 range for the 2012 campaign.
While Alonso’s power numbers may not be of the caliber of an Adrian Gonzalez, he still should contend for the team lead in Home Runs if Quentin does miss more time than expected. Known as a good “all-fields” hitter, Alonso should have plenty of room to work with at home as Petco’s dimensions are ridiculously and famously spacious. New G.M. Josh Byrnes thought so highly of Alonso and his Offensive skill-set that he was willing to trade once prized-prospect Anthony Rizzo for the line-drive hitting Alonso whose swing is thought to be more conducive to Petco. It is likely that Yonder may only hit between 10-20 HR’s this season, but his Doubles totals could exceed 35 if he ends up playing the entire year, and the more space in the Outfield for his line-drives to fall and the Defense to have to cover the better for him.
Will Alonso live up to the hype and make us fans forget about Mat Latos? I think we will need a few years before we can settle a debate like that one. Plus, Yasmani Grandal (also acquired for Lators) could be raking in the big leagues before the season ends, and might even turn out to be the better big league player. Still, Alonso projects to be a solid contributor for the Padres, and is going to get his best shot to succeed in the big leagues beginning this season. Alonso’s skill set, and the fact that he can play every day gives him a tremendous advantage over almost all other Rookie position players which are in contention this season to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. All we can do now however is wait and see how well Alonso can perform, and hope he brings the Padres franchise their first Rookie of the Year award winner in 25 years.
Statistics Courtesy of: