Weekend Coffee with James Krueger: What Happened to Yonder Alonso?


Jun 14, 2014; New York, NY, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso (23) doubles to deep center allowing left fielder Seth Smith (12) (not pictured) to score during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY SportsSan Diego Padre

Yonder Alonso was once a top first base prospect, drafted seventh overall in the 2008 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds. The front office believed in him so much, they even traded away another top prospect in Anthony Rizzo, acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, for ace Andrew Cashner. There was talk that Alonso would not only make fans forget about the A-Gon trade, they would forget who A-Gon was entirely. In a nutshell, Yonder Alonso was very hot for a team that needed a hot first base product. But something funny happened on the way to superstardom.

Alonso is pretty much the exact definition of a busted prospect. He’s put up a 100 wRC+ over his career, just an average hitter. Most of his hitting stats are fueled by a hot start with the Reds in 2011, never eclipsing 108 wRC+ since. He’s been full of potential over his career, but the tools have never been met with results.

At first look, Alonso seems like the kind of hitter primed for a breakout. He has excellent strikeout numbers (only 13.1%) and is hitting enough fly balls (37.7%) to generate the kind of power expected out of a first baseman. But the rest of the numbers ring hollow. His 64 wRC+ is one of the worst in the league, and his .131 isolated slugging is below average for all position players. He’s been worth -0.4 fWAR this season, meaning the Padres could put any replacement level player (hello, Tommy Medica) in his spot and actually perform better as a team. Even the most optimistic projection sees him as a replacement level player the rest of the season, not exactly what the Padres had in mind when they traded the upstart Mat Latos away.

To really dig down to find his issues, look at where he’s been most successful:

Down the middle and inside. Right in the wheelhouse for most lefties. Alonso crushes anything thrown in these areas, having some of the best slugging percentage marks over them. But look at where he’s been getting pitches:

Low and away. Wash, rinse and repeat, then watch Alonso trot back to the dugout after a successful at bat. He hasn’t seen much of anything on the inner half throughout his entire career, and gets very few pitches on the middle third as well. Pitchers have a book on him, and he’s been exposed. He hasn’t been able to make the necessary adjustments to properly hit for an average or power, and the results are showing in an ugly way.

Part of being a good hitter is adjusting to problems and issues with your skill set. Yonder Alonso came to the Friars as a high ceiling, strong bat prospect with huge expectations. His inability to adjust to the outside pitches has crushed his performance, leaving the Padres in a tough spot with him. Tommy Medica has torn it up when given the playing time, and Bud Black needs every possible hitter to hit for the sake of his job security.

Without a balanced approach, Alonso is just another bench bat, something the Padres have enough of already. He hasn’t shown a willingness to change earlier in his career, and don’t expect it now; there are real issues with him, and he doesn’t seem interested in fixing them.