NEW YORK -- An offseason spent shopping brought the Mets a clubhouse full of new faces this spring. But for all the excitement sure to surround each Robinson Canó swing and Edwin Díaz fastball in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at least as many eyes are bound to be on top
NEW YORK -- An offseason spent shopping brought the Mets a clubhouse full of new faces this spring. But for all the excitement sure to surround each Robinson Canó swing and Edwin Díaz fastball in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at least as many eyes are bound to be on top prospect Peter Alonso, who may even supplant Tim Tebow as the most-watched player at Mets camp. (Maybe.)
By now, Alonso's story is familiar to Mets fans. A second-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Alonso, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, broke out for 36 home runs over two levels last season, then he hit six more in 27 Arizona Fall League games. The Mets declined a chance to call up Alonso late last season, prompting him to express his disappointment publicly. In retrospect, all it did was increase Alonso's hunger to make a Major League impact -- and soon.
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"I have to just trust the process," Alonso said late last season. "I'm just going to use that as motivation to get better for next year. Have a good winter, getting faster, stronger, and show up for camp ready to go."
If only things were that simple. Two factors are working against Alonso at the dawn of camp. One is his defense -- a publicly stated reason why the Mets didn't call him up last season, and something Alonso has worked on tirelessly over the last year. Scouts consider him somewhat improved at first base, though this spring will be telling. Every success and every error will be magnified.
The other is a service-time consideration. Much as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant and the Braves with Ronald Acuña Jr., the Mets can control Alonso for an extra year if they wait until mid-April to call him up. Most front offices would consider that decision automatic, but general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has insisted multiple times that if Alonso proves he's the best option at first base, the Mets will carry him on the Opening Day roster. It would be difficult, and potentially damaging to Van Wagenen's relationship with Alonso, to renege on that promise now.
So the onus falls on Alonso to produce, something he has had little trouble doing throughout parts of three years in the Minors. Only in 2017, when a hand injury limited him to 97 games, has Alonso faced on-field adversity since turning pro. And that was more a temporary blip; he returned to post a .975 OPS last summer, establishing himself as the best first-base prospect in baseball and a behind perhaps only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. among the best offensive prospects in baseball. Questions linger regarding Alonso's defense, and also his ability to hit for average in the Majors. But few doubt Alonso's ability to rake. Fewer still question his desire.
"He wants to get better. He wants to be an item," Brad Weitzel, Alonso's assistant coach at Florida, said last year. "Every day he goes to the field, sweat is just pouring off him. ... You can just see he's not going to be a backup player."
It seems clear that as long as Alonso continues down this path, he will be the Mets' first baseman of the future. The present day is what's unclear, with a crowded infield pushing Todd Frazier to first base. The club also has no logical spot for former first-round pick Dominic Smith, who may wind up at Triple-A Syracuse, further clouding Alonso's future.
But Major League Baseball is largely a meritocracy. If Alonso hits, he will play.
So far in his young career, he has done little else.
"He's a professional and has handled himself well on and off the field," Van Wagenen said. "My philosophy is to try to put the best 25 guys on the field. That may be a cliche, but I think he has a chance to be an impact player, and our goal is to have as many impact guys on the field as we can."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.