Why Pete Alonso is literally baseball's next big thing

Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

NEW YORK -- Maybe it's too easy to say that Pete Alonso was born to play for the New York Mets, the team that plays in the borough of Queens, where Pete's grandfather settled as a teenager in the 1930s after fleeing the Spanish Civil War from his native Barcelona and where Pete's father was born.

Maybe it's too ambitious to suggest that, just 23 games into his major league career, the rookie first baseman with the prodigious power stroke will be a star, not just because of his production in numbers but in his ability to engage the fans with his energy and enthusiasm.

Maybe it's simply too much to expect Alonso to keep hitting this way, bashing long home runs and taking a half-swing on a two-strike sinker on the outside corner from Jake Arrieta and still hitting a 98 mph ground ball past the first baseman for an RBI double and then standing at second base, pumping both fists above his head in celebration.

Just a few weeks ago, Alonso was simply battling in spring training to make the Opening Day roster, a top prospect after leading the minor leagues in home runs and RBIs in 2018, but not a lock to make the team, especially given how teams often hold players back in the minors to save on service time. But Alonso raked in spring training and now he has become one of the biggest stories of the first month of the season, hitting .325 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs. Maybe it's just a wonderful flash in time. Maybe it's the beginning of something big.

"It's all happening quickly, but I'm definitely taking the time to take a couple steps back and kind of enjoy everything," Alonso said before Tuesday's game at Citi Field. "It's a dream to be here, but I'm also enjoying my time here."

It's a dream his grandfather won't see. Peter Conrad Alonso died in December at age 95, but he saw his grandson -- Peter Morgan Alonso (his dad is Peter Matthew Alonso) -- play for short-season Brooklyn in 2016 and spring training games in 2018. He would no doubt be enjoying the growing legend of Alonso's power.

Alonso first showcased that power on a national level with a towering home run in last summer's Futures Game, a 415-foot blast with a 46-degree launch angle and 113.6 mph exit velocity. Statcast had never tracked a ball hit that high with that exit velocity. In the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game, he homered off a 103 mph fastball from Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson. He hit the first pitch he saw in spring training for a home run. Then there was this home run against Atlanta's Jonny Venters on April 11, a 118.3 mph, 454-foot laser to center field that ranks as the hardest-hit home run so far in 2019:

Alonso grew up in Tampa, Florida, playing football and lacrosse -- he was a hard-hitting linebacker and hard-hitting defenseman -- but baseball was always his first sport.

"I've always been a hitter. My dad always says I had a bat in my hands out of the womb," he said. "I just love hitting. It's something I've worked on a lot, but also it's something I really, really enjoy. I mean, it's my favorite hobby. It's a job now, but for me, I love it."

That joy -- combined with the impressive home runs -- is a reason he's already becoming a fan favorite.

"You see the energy, you see his focus, you see his ability to take pitches the right way. This guy brings a lot to the table -- he's calling you at night to try to get in the lineup," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said.

He was referring to the call this past Saturday when Alonso, who had been hit by a pitch in the game earlier that day, told him he wanted to be in the lineup Sunday against Dakota Hudson, a pitcher Alonso had faced in college. Alonso did play Sunday ... and hit a home run off Hudson.

"He's here to win. Every single day. And he brings energy like every moment out there on the field," Callaway said. "He's been tremendous so far. It's fun getting to learn who is and what he's all about."

Alonso's setup in the batter's box is a little unusual. He holds his hands low, the bat bouncing listlessly off his back right shoulder like an umbrella waiting for a rainstorm. He does this thing where he takes kind of a checked swing, snapping his hands downward to help create muscle memory. When he does initiate his swing, he rocks gently back and the hands raise up slightly and whip through the zone to unleash some of the best raw power in the game.

It's not the setup Alonso has always deployed. When you watch video of him at the University of Florida, his hands are higher, up near his head, and farther from his body -- a more conventional look. He had a breakout season his draft year in 2016, but he also spent the season tinkering with his stance.

"My junior year of college, I call it the four stages of Pete, because I had four batting stances," Alonso said. "In college, because the season is so short, if you go 0-for-6 or something, it means a lot more than it does up here."

In other words, a couple of bad games and he might try something different. In pro ball, he soon realized the importance of a consistent setup and approach.

"Being able to play every day, that helps so much. You can't be all over the place. You need some level of consistency," he said.

After a solid 36-game debut at Brooklyn in 2016, he struggled at the outset of 2017 for Class-A St. Lucie, going 10-for-70, a .143 average. He credits St. Lucie manager Chad Kreuter for helping him to simplify everything and helping him to remain in a good position to hit.

After his breakout season at Double-A and Triple-A last year when he hit 36 home runs, Alonso emerged as a top-100 prospect. The power was obvious, but it's possible -- at least based on these early returns -- that his hit tool has been underrated.

"He's a very skilled baseball player," general manager Brodie Van Wagenen told me. "I think the most impressive thing about his start is that when you look at the home runs, they're from left-center to right-center. This isn't a guy just looking to pull everything."

Callaway cited Alonso's approach with runners on base, like the double off Arrieta on Monday. "I think if a runner isn't in scoring position, Alonso isn't going to take that same swing and look for something to drive and do a little bit more damage, but he has an uncanny ability when the runner is out there on the pond to slap the ball the other way if he needs to."

As with everything in April, it's early. Van Wagenen pointed out that the league will now start making adjustments. Alonso is also working hard to improve his defense -- Callaway has been pulling Alonso late in games when the Mets are leading. So far though, the return of Peter Alonso to Queens has been a smashing success.