WEST PALM BEACH – Pete Alonso is starting to look like a natural first baseman.
That became evident when he made a couple of heads-up plays at the bag, but it was punctuated when Alonso anticipated high-pressure situations by knowing who was at the plate.
The 24-year-old, trying to dispel defensive concerns while battling for the starting job, helped limit Houston’s damage in the Mets 3-3 tie against the Astros on Monday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. With the bases juiced and nobody out, Alonso knew exactly where to position himself by recognizing the batter, Ronnie Dawson.
“I played with him in the Arizona Fall League,” Alonso said. “I know he’s got some thump. So I was expecting him to drop the head and turn on it a little bit. He did that and thankfully I made a good play.”
Dawson, 23, hit a low liner a few feet behind the first-base bag and Alonso, with no hesitation, extended his arm, caught the ball and stepped on the bag for the out. Yuli Gurriel was jogging home, and Alonso hit the force play to Tomas Nido at the dish to save a run from scoring.
“It was kind of like one of those low line drives where runners tend to freeze up because they don’t want to get doubled off,” Alonso said. “It’s still a scoreless ballgame at that point so I made the force play at home.”
The Mets top prospect is competing for the first-base job alongside Todd Frazier – who is yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. The team noted that the main reason the Mets did not call up Alonso last year, when he hit 36 homers with 119 RBIs on a .975 OPS across two levels in the minors, was due to his defensive deficiency at first base.
Alonso is a student of the game and his attention to minor details allow the infielder to migrate to the correct, textbook positions on all practiced drills – including a wacky rundown at third base on Monday. While George Springer was in a pickle between second and third, Alonso was already covering home plate to make sure the pitcher was no longer involved in the play.
Alonso took a break from patrolling the infield on Sunday and served as the Mets designated hitter against Houston. But when he kicked the dirt around at first base on Monday and got into a rhythm, it was like he never missed a beat.
“It’s the second day playing the field and I’m already getting a little bit more comfortable,” Alonso said. “I’m seeing the ball well off the bat and I just want to keep it up.”
THOMPSON BATTLES BACK
Thompson, the Mets 2015 fourth-round draft pick, was hit by a pitch in 2018 and missed most of the season in the minor leagues. When the third baseman began rehabbing, elbow issues surfaced and Thompson had surgery to remove bone spurs and chips on his left hand and elbow. He didn’t pick up a bat until September of last year.
On Monday, the 25-year-old blasted a three-run homer to deep left field and tied the game at 3 in the fifth, keeping the Mets in the game. The homer ended up being the difference as the final runs New York would score against the Astros.
“Really good all-around athlete and baseball player,” Manager Mickey Callaway said. “I like the way he plays the game. Like a college player that’s polished for his age.”
Jeff McNeil made a good effort on a sliding catch down the third-base line in left field, but came up empty-handed. The ball went just over his extended arm and trickled into the corner. Astros second baseman Nick Tanielu logged a bases-clearing triple to put Houston on the board with a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.
Still, McNeil’s fearless attempts in the outfield for a natural infielder are good signs for the Mets. He got throws in quickly for flyouts and helped pressure the runners. Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis consistently threw the stop sign for his runners, threatened by McNeil’s power arm.
Callaway said Brandon Nimmo is scheduled to DH on Tuesday in the home game of the split squad against the Tigers. Nimmo was dealing with a sore shoulder that pushed his spring debut back a few days. Todd Frazier is expected to debut for the Grapefruit League on Wednesday against the Marlins at First Data Field.