Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yonder Alonso: Late Bloomer or Lame Duck?

Earlier today, the Oakland A's traded pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Jose Torres, and a player to be named later to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Yonder Alonso and reliever Marc Rzepczynski. Initial reactions lean towards this being a win for San Diego because Pomeranz is the most valuable commodity in the transaction. Future performance, of course, is the unknown. What strikes me as most interesting in this deal is what is in store for the A's new first baseman.

Yonder Alonso was born in Havana, Cuba in the spring of 1987. He was a highly touted prospect in the Reds' organization from 2009-2012, but clearly blocked by perennial MVP candidate, Joey Votto. He got his first exposure in the Major Leagues with the Reds, mostly as a pinch-hitter in 2010 and playing out of position in Left Field over 47 games of 2011. In that brief time, he showed his bat could play. His line in 2011 was a wildly promising .330/.398/.545, good for a 153 OPS+. The following winter, he was traded to San Diego, in a loaded package including Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez, for the mercurial right-hander Mat Latos.

Joey Votto blocked Yonder Alonso in Cincinnati
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

As most batters that move to San Diego, his hitting did not improve, but this was not due to the ballpark. His home road splits, over his career, have been quiet even.

Yonder Alonso MLB Home/Road Splits (Career)
ISplitGGSPAHRBBSOBAOBPSLGtOPS+
Home2492068731581122.268.338.394100
Away2592099381782141.278.342.391100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2015.

In fact, his career numbers at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark of Cincinnati have been horrendous, as evidenced by his .292 OBP while playing along the shores of the Ohio River. What's really never returned from his repertoire after 2011 is any semblance of power. He has never topped 9 home runs in a season, and his slugging percentage has been below .400 since he left Cincinnati. The Padres didn't expect Alonso to hit lots of homers. When they decided to trade Anthony Rizzo to Chicago for Andrew Cashner, their strategy relied on the fact that a line drive hitter, like Alonso, would be more likely succeed in their cavernous ballpark than a fly ball hitter, like Rizzo.

Current front office management in San Diego has changed since the Rizzo for Cashner deal, so it's not like they are living in regret. A.J. Preller is moving forward. This could be a good move for the Friars. It opens up first base for fragile Wil Myers and gives them a strong arm for the rotation. Pomeranz has good stuff, and he's moving to the National League, which should help his run prevention.

Back to what interest me of this move. Will this be an opportunity for Yonder Alonso to finally blossom as a player? He turns 29 in April and has two more seasons before Free Agency. For all the Alonso bashing we've heard off his underwhelming performance in San Diego, the dude had a .361 OBP last year and 111 OPS+. Among hitters with at least 400 PA's last year, that was the 20th highest On-Base Percentage in the National League. Alonso has been hurt for most of the past three seasons. If he gets a good string of health, it's not unreasonable to expect a slash line in the neighborhood of .300/.380/.410.

On the other hand, he could be keeping first base warm for another Cuban-born first baseman in the A's system who has hit well everywhere he's played. 23-year old Rangel Ravelo was born in Havana sixteen days after little Yonder's fifth birthday. They have a lot in common, both having gone to high school in the Miami area, both good contact hitters who have struggled with recent injuries that have sapped them of their already humble power, and now they both have a chance at the same Major League job. Take a look at these career numbers from Ravelo:

Rangel Ravelo MiLB Batting Stats
YearAgeTmLevPAHRBBSOBAOBPSLG
201018BristolRk1871925.254.291.335
2011192 TeamsA-Rk25201431.338.381.415
201220KannapolisA32722038.290.343.397
2013212 TeamsA+-A41345157.299.388.432
201422BirminghamAA551115677.309.386.473
2015233 TeamsAAA-AA-Rk24632342.304.377.439
Minors (6 seasons)Minors197621173270.302.369.426
Foreign (2 seasons)Foreign199104619.429.568.721
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2015.

Would it surprise anyone if A's General Manager, David Forst, flipped Alonso in another trade this winter to open the door for Ravelo to win the first base job? Whenever and wherever Ravelo gets his opportunity, will the results be much different?

Rangel Ravero has been great in the 2016 Venezulan Winter
League, winning Player of the Week this Oct 26 - Nov 1
Photo from www.eluniversal.com