It’s foolish to put much stock in spring training numbers, but one of the spring’s hottest hitters has carried over a revamped approach and spring training success to the regular season. Now, I believe he’s an ownable commodity in mixed leagues as shallow as 12 teams if they use a corner infielder and/or a utility spot. The second player I’m covering this week wasn’t who I initially had in mind in the same outfield. While checking in on slugger Jorge Soler, I found myself intrigued by his rookie teammate who was recently promoted to The Show.
Yonder Alonso (OAK – 1B): CBS – 11%, ESPN – 5.2%, Yahoo! – 3%
Prior to this season, Alonso slugged 39 homers in 2,343 plate appearances. This year, he’s ripped four homers in his first 62 plate appearances entering play yesterday. At his current home-run pace, he’d need 620 plate appearances to hit one more homer this year than he’d hit in his career prior to this season. Alonso’s 30 years old, and under normal circumstances, it would be easy to dismiss his hot start as a fluke. If you were paying attention in March, you know we’re not dealing with normal circumstances, though. Eno took a detailed look at Alonso’s approach change this spring and shared some quotes from the veteran first baseman speaking on his changes at the dish.
Alonso has shed his grounder-happy ways for a lift-and-launch approach that features more punch outs, but the trade off for power is well worth it. The lefty first baseman entered the season with a career 14.4% K%, .118 ISO, 7.8% SwStr%, 45.3% GB% and 32.6% FB%. This year, his strikeout rate is up to 21.0%, but he’s also kicked his ISO up to .286, whittled his worm burners down to a 27.9% GB% and lifted the ball to the tune of a 51.2% FB%. In addition to hitting the ball in the air a lot more, he’s also hitting the ball a great deal harder crushing his pre-2017 Hard% of 30.5% with a 44.2% Hard% this year. Derek Florko of the Baseball Prospectus prospect team shared a couple of images on Twitter showing Alonso’s launch angle change from 2016 to 2017 as well as his exit velo changes by location. The images are jarring and back up his assertion to Eno in camp that he’s “trying to punish it more, get it in the air.”
Alonso is hitting .286 with a reasonable .308 BABIP, and he remains extremely patient with a 9.7% BB% — making him an even greater asset in leagues that use OBP. He’s been a below average hitter against southpaws in his career, and while his 102 wRC+ against them in just 13 plate appearances isn’t great, it’s worth noting the underlying numbers hint at potential for more. Alonso has a 66.7% FB% and 55.6% Hard% in matchups with same-handed foes. Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Napoli and Tommy Joseph are a quartet of first basemen who entered the year with greater expectations than Alonso, and I’d take the A’s first baseman over all four.
Jorge Bonifacio (KC – OF): CBS – 3%, ESPN – 0.6%, Yahoo! – 0%
I’ll start by saying I’m not sure what the Royals will do when Soler is activated from the disabled list. Bonifacio could find himself back in the minors for further seasoning. Having said that, the Royals rank dead last with a 61 wRC+, a full 17 points lower than a two-team time just above them in the rankings as of Thursday. Their offense has been brutal, and if Bonifacio hits, he could be awarded the opportunity to stick around. It feels like forever ago Bonifacio captured the attention of prospect evaluators and prospect rankers, but he’s only 23.
The corner outfielder reached Double-A in 2013, but he spent both 2014 and 2015 at that level before the Royals promoted him to Triple-A for the 2016 season despite a sub-100 wRC+ both full seasons in Double-A. Last year, he hit well at the Triple-A level recording a 116 wRC+. The right-handed hitter’s offense featured some swing and miss with a 23.3% K%, but he also worked walks at a solid 9.1% clip and tallied a .184 ISO with 19 long balls in 558 plate appearances.
He started the year repeating Triple-A, and he kicked things up a notch with an improved walk rate (10.5% BB%), reduced strikeout rate (14.0% K%) and a big leap in thump (.294 ISO with three homers in 57 plate appearances). Bonifacio has already reached the seats once in The Show, and his batted ball profile lends itself to extra-base hits with a 45.8% FB% in the minors last year, a 67.4% FB% in Triple-A this year and a 42.9% FB% thus far in the majors.
Bonifacio tallied a .773 OPS against lefties and a .828 OPS against righties last year, per MiLB.com, and he ripped off a .899 OPS against righties in 46 at-bats against righties to start this year in the minors. His splits in prior years are a mixed bag, but his bat doesn’t look like it needs to be limited to platoon duties. I wouldn’t advocate adding Bonifacio in standard leagues, but I scooped him up in a 14-team mixed keeper league. I think he’s worth a speculative grab in dynasty formats or deep re-draft leagues. .
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.