WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Peter Alonso was hitting in the batting cage one day during his freshman year of college when Kevin O'Sullivan, the University of Florida's longtime head coach, shouted to him that he looked like Paul Konerko: big, burly, a right-handed masher. If it wasn't meant to
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Peter Alonso was hitting in the batting cage one day during his freshman year of college when Kevin O'Sullivan, the University of Florida's longtime head coach, shouted to him that he looked like Paul Konerko: big, burly, a right-handed masher. If it wasn't meant to be a transcendent moment, something nonetheless clicked in Alonso's brain. A self-described "baseball freak" who grew up idolizing Mike Piazza and other righty sluggers, Alonso sat down shortly thereafter to watch video of Konerko's swing.
"I was shocked," Alonso said. "I was like, 'I'll take it.'"
Over the next two years, Alonso worked to be like Konerko, but he wasn't certain he was succeeding until he decided to play through a broken bone in his left hand in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Risking further injury in an attempt to win a championship -- and to win over scouts in advance of the upcoming MLB Draft -- Alonso recalled "crushing balls" despite the pain in his hand. He hit .500 in the NCAA tournament. Five of his 16 hits went over the fence.
• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear
"I guess that's when the lightbulb really turned on," said Alonso, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the Mets' No. 4 prospect.
It was enough for the Mets to select Alonso with their second-round Draft pick, adding depth behind former first-rounder Dominic Smith -- if not an outright challenger to Smith's mantle as New York's first baseman of the future. Since the Draft, Alonso has hit .297 with a .903 OPS and 23 home runs in 123 professional games.
Those stats may look nice, but the numbers behind the numbers are what truly intrigue the Mets. Last season, Alonso's 92.5-mph average exit velocity ranked tops at any level of the organization. Only three qualified Major Leaguers -- Aaron Judge, Nelson Cruz and Joey Gallo -- posted higher exit velocity averages, according to Statcast™, meaning Alonso clocked in ahead of players such as Paul Goldschmidt, another right-handed slugger he has long idolized; Giancarlo Stanton, the National League MVP Award winner; and Lucas Duda, who led the Mets in exit velocity.
In a way, Duda -- whom Alonso may ultimately replace -- paved the way for players like Alonso. Back in 2014, when the Mets were trying to decide whether Duda or Ike Davis was their first baseman of the future, they based their choice on exit velocity figures, making a novel decision that ultimately proved correct. Like most teams, the Mets now rely heavily on such data when evaluating prospects.
On those spreadsheets, Alonso has always been an outlier. A slugger since his youth, Alonso arrived at Florida "a bull in a china shop," according to Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"He just tried to disintegrate balls," Weitzel said. "That's all he tried to do. But there was no real contact skills, working on going the other way, becoming a hitter. For me, you've got to learn how to hit before power means anything."
Working with Weitzel, O'Sullivan and a private swing coach he has used since age eight, Alonso learned patience, increasing his walk rate from 8 percent as a college freshman to 12 percent as a junior. His strikeout totals as a professional have hovered in the mid-teens, making him far more than a prototypical all-or-nothing slugger. Alonso's batting practice sessions are spectacles; at Double-A Binghamton last summer, manager Luis Rojas instructed his infielders to take a step or two back when Alonso entered the cage.
Where it goes from here is contingent on Alonso submitting his first full professional season -- he lost a month and a half last year to another hand injury -- in 2018.
For now, he feels at home in big league camp, where Smith's leg injury has afforded him ample playing time. Long a Mets admirer due to his love for Piazza, Alonso once did a high school Spanish class project on Jose Reyes. He grew up a fan of David Wright, another of this generation's best right-handed hitters. He has spent time this spring working on his defense with four-time Gold Glove Award winner Adrian Gonzalez, who has gone out of his way to provide the type of tutelage Alonso has always craved.
"He wants to get better. He wants to be an item," Weitzel said. "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."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.