Mets baseball is officially back, you guys. The games don’t count yet, but that doesn’t matter — watching New York take the field and play a game against another team was something we’ve been waiting for throughout this excruciatingly long winter. And when looking for some of the biggest storylines to come from the first two games, first baseman Pete Alonso is at the top of that list.
After leading all the minor leagues with 36 home runs and 119 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A last year, it’d certainly appear that Alonso doesn’t have much else to prove down there (defense notwithstanding). And while general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has publicly stated that service-time manipulation wouldn’t be a factor in him making the big-league roster at the end of spring training, that’s something we’ll need to see before believing.
Based on what’s happened thus far at camp, though, it feels as if the stars are aligning for him to finally get a chance to be a big leaguer.
Potential Impact of Lowrie’s Injury
The depth the Mets acquired over the winter — specifically in the infield — was going to make it tough for Alonso to earn his promotion right away. Even if he tore opposing pitchers to smithereens over the next month, it would’ve been hard to get consistent playing time with Jed Lowrie, Amed Rosario, Robinson Cano, and Todd Frazier all being penciled into the every-day roster in a best-case scenario (i.e. all being healthy).
Since this is the Mets we’re talking about, it’s not surprising that an injury is potentially already paving the way for an alternative situation. While Lowrie’s knee injury didn’t appear to be serious, his capsule strain comes with a fuzzy timetable for a return, putting Opening Day in doubt. If the veteran were to miss some regular-season games, that immediately opens up a number of different possibilities.
A pretty basic scenario would be to shift Jeff McNeil back to the infield, but unless Lowrie is going to miss a significant chunk of time (like all of 2018), this doesn’t make much sense. He’s barely played the outfield as a professional; with the multitude of infield permutations that can be done without McNeil (including Alonso, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and Adeiny Hechavarria), it’s better to keep him in the outfield and let him focus on getting better instead of potentially splitting his time.
If Frazier heads back to third base for the tie being, then you’d have to think Alonso has the inside track at heading north with the club once camp is through — unless that service time stuff rears its ugly head.
Staying Within Himself This Weekend
Regardless of what the eventual roster decisions will be, all Alonso can do is control his play on the field. No good teammate ever wants someone else on their own squad to go down with an injury. However, Alonso had to at least think about what the Lowrie news could potentially do for his chances at being with the Mets on Opening Day.
And due to the timing of it all, he had a chance to ponder this before taking the field Saturday against the Atlanta Braves for New York’s Grapefruit League opener. Regardless of how confident he feels, there had to be some jitters early on in this game. The stats don’t count, but Alonso doesn’t have the luxury of taking things easy.
It would’ve been easy to have let things continue going south after missing a very catchable throw from Rosario. This isn’t unique to Alonso’s situation, either — baseball is a humbling game. All it takes is one simple play for a player’s confidence level to come crashing down. It even happens to those who are viewed as mentally strong because, well, they’re human beings, not robots.
Watching Alonso hit a homer in his first big-league spring-training plate appearance would’ve been sweet no matter the situation. Having it come immediately after making that error made it even sweeter. I’m going to drop it below because who doesn’t want to watch it again?
Obviously, this seems to be Alonso’s calling card — homers and mistakes in the field — despite his efforts to improve with the glove. But still, given the situation and everything that had unfolded with regard to his potential roster spot leading up to that dinger, it was significant. While it doesn’t seem like much, it helps reaffirm the belief that this dude is ready to roll in the big leagues right now.
This one swing changed the whole narrative of his weekend, too. Instead of letting that miscue in the field eat him up, impact his plate appearances, and put him behind the eight-ball, he’s making a convincing argument to be included. He added a walk later on Saturday and a double on Sunday, along with finding himself on the back pages of a number of New York newspapers.
Prior to his arrival to Port St. Lucie, Alonso’s path toward being the Mets’ Opening-Day first baseman wasn’t an impossible trek, but it wasn’t going to be easy. It still won’t be a walk in the park from here on out, but when pairing injured teammates with his impressive on-field performance, the stars appear to be aligning and making his goal more of a reality each day.
Now he just needs to keep his foot on the gas.