Does Yonder Alonso have a future in LF?

He's been blocked at first base and flagged to trade for long as Joey Votto has been putting up big numbers, so it's easy to forget that Yonder Alonso still could have a future with the Reds.  The Cuban native signed on August 15, 2008, late into Joey Votto's first full season at first base - and one in which he was voted Rookie of the Year runner-up. Following that season, Alonso was rated the #35 prospect in baseball. Recovery from a hammate bone fracture cut down on his power and further buried him in the mental garage of anyone not busy dreaming up hypothetical trades.

While he's been perpetually on the block, Yonder has shown remarkably stable production across every level as his power has gradually returned. His .293/.370/.466 minor league line across 3 seasons (and 35 PAs in '08) is not some distorted product of an outlier season, but rather a pretty accurate indication of what he's done at every level and could reasonably do in the majors as soon as right now. A polished college prospect when he started his pro career, Alonso has by far the highest floor of any Reds' hitting prospect.

Depending on how much weight you put on where he is in his career arc and the relative riskiness of 1B/OF prospects vs. catchers, Alonso may be the Reds most promising offensive weapon in 2012 this side of Bruce and Votto. It gets more tantalizing when you consider that his power might continue to grow as he gets further away from the injury and closer to that magical age 26/27 season.

Of course, that's all in a vacuum. He'll have to remain with the organization through this upcoming season. And he has to field a position, which also assumes he'll be written into the lineup card in order to do so. 2013 - Votto's contract year and Alonso's potential first year "out of options" - is a different story, but if Alonso is a Red in 2012, it's left field or bust. 

Dusty has already shown a healthy level of skepticism about Alonso's ability to patrol LF. Yonder was called up on July 26 and has spent all of 11 innings playing the outfield. Having read scouting reports and watched him run the bases, I share Baker's reservations about his range. An outfielder that's only trusted to play in ballparks with minimal left field real estate is not a future full-time starter. The question is: How well do the Reds know his limitations? And: Should/could they begin to find out over the remainder of the season?

In reality, the Reds still think they're competing or at least want to pretend at it for as long as possible, so I don't see a full-fledged Alonso Experiment launching. I'm kinda OK with this for now, because (a) I wanted to see Heisey start, since I think he has upside in his OBP to go along with power and good defense at the position; and (b) against my better judgment, I haven't given up on the season. But I recognize that while I'm higher on Heisey than some, he may actually become what he's been to date - a very good 4th OFer. And if you're going to trade away a player to call up a first-round, MLB-ready masher, it makes no sense not to play him regularly. So I'd hope for more equitable time between Heisey and Alonso, with Alonso coming off the bench frequently, but I don't expect it to happen. Is Dusty's reason - indefensibility - for sitting him defensible?

Even if he's a potential liability out there, he gives the Reds both a potential offensive injection and with a barometer on next season. However, if he's so unreliable in LF that his defense undercuts his bat and he can't be trusted in most parks, then it's pointless to start him - whether as a high-risk maneuver or a try-out for next year - because he didn't have a future to begin with.

From multiple reports, both from amateur eyewitnesses and scouts, Alonso gets good reads and take good routes on fly balls. He has only one error in 92 minor league games in LF, with a sparkling 1.000 fielding percentage (I know, I know) in Louisville. While this says nothing at all about range - and is therefore almost useless - it at least helps to bolster reports that Yonder is good at getting to balls he can get to. He has a decent arm, evident in 3 outfield assists this season in Louisville, which is certainly better than zero. I'm already stretching the limits of available defensive metrics, but Yonder's 1.47 Range Factor (put outs + assists/game) isn't an alarm bell either. Chris Heisey posted similar numbers in LF playing in the Reds' system.

The sample sizes here are small and defensive stats are often specious, but given both the scouting and a statistical smell test, Yonder is worth a try roaming some territory larger than Minute Maid. He's capable of getting to balls and getting them back into the infield. The pay-off is valuable intel for next season and a risky-rewardy move that could help the Reds make the season more interesting. If he doesn't play at least as much as Gomes did at the end of his tenure - while getting heavy rotation as PH - I'm not sure why he's here.

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