NEW YORK — Yes, Aaron Judge saw the highlights.
And yes, Judge was just as impressed with Pete Alonso’s splash landing in Atlanta as the rest of us.
On April 11, Alonso — the New York Mets’ 24-year-old rookie slugger — belted a 454-foot homer with a staggering 118.3 mph exit velocity that landed in the centerfield fountain at SunTrust Park.
It was the hardest-hit ball by any Met in the “Statcast Era” (since 2015).
“What a special talent,” Judge told Yahoo Sports when asked about Alonso. “I haven’t met him ... but I’ve only heard good things about him. And what he’s doing on the field — not only hitting for power but hitting for a good average. That’s something pretty special.”
Since baseball began keeping tracking data four seasons ago, the “exit velo” leaderboards have belonged to Judge and his teammate, Giancarlo Stanton.
Hardest HRs in MLB since 2015
1. Giancarlo Stanton: 121.7 mph
2. Aaron Judge: 121.0 mph
3T. Stanton: 119.3 mph
3T. Judge: 119.3 mph
5. Stanton: 119.2 mph
6T. Stanton: 118.6 mph
6T. Judge: 118.6 mph
8. Stanton: 118.5 mph
*9T. Pete Alonso: 118.3 mph today*
9T. Judge: 118.3 mph (2x)
— David Adler (@_dadler) April 12, 2019
Now, there’s a newcomer in the mix. And he also happens to play in the Big Apple — just on the other side of town.
Asked what it was like to be in the same category with Judge (6-foot-7, 282 pounds) and Stanton (6-foot-6, 245 pounds), Alonso (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) jokingly told reporters, “Got to do a couple more push-ups. That’s really cool. It means a lot. They’re two of the most prolific power hitters in the game right now, and to be up there with them it’s really cool and means a lot.”
Alonso has burst onto the scene since earning his spot with the Mets out of spring training — service-time issues be damned — batting .339 with six homers and 17 RBIs in his first 16 career games. He ranks fourth in the majors with 13 extra-base hits. All of his homers have come against relievers in the seventh inning or later.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Judge said. “You see him, and he’s built like an NFL linebacker. You saw the play with Josh Reddick at first base in the spring. Reddick was going full speed and Pete was just kind of off-balance trying to make a play. He stopped Reddick right in his tracks.
— For The Win (@ForTheWin) March 11, 2019
“You watch his swing and how big he is and his mechanics. That was a pretty impressive homer that he had.”
In the clubhouse, Noah Syndergaard has nicknamed Alonso “Pete the Polar Bear.”
“He’s a violent creature,” Syndergaard said recently.
The Mets selected Alonso in the second-round of the 2016 MLB draft out of the University of Florida. He wound up hitting his way through the minors and into the majors.
“His power doesn’t surprise anybody that went to a game,” said Mets’ vice president of scouting Tommy Tanous. “But there are a lot of kids with power. It’s just there aren’t that many with ‘power frequency’ — the ability to actually use that power in a game. Pete is able to recognize pitches better than a lot of kids in the minors. That’s the difference.
“He’s a good hitter. His defense has improved. I can’t tell you he’s going to be a base stealer. But if he keeps hitting the ball over the fence, he can jog all he wants.”
Judge managed to hit an MLB rookie-record 52 homers en route to capturing AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. But the start of his career wasn’t without its share of pitfalls.
During a brief cameo with the Yankees in 2016, Judge hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats. And, even in his historic rookie campaign, he struggled with a shoulder injury — which wasn’t helped by winning the Home Run Derby that year — and hit .179 during a 44-game stretch from July 14 - Aug. 31. Alonso has struggled early with strikeouts (21 in 59 at-bats) and is on pace for more than 200 this season.
In a sport riddled with failure, the ability to adjust can be make-or-break for young players. Video, scouting reports and advanced metrics provide teams a chance to both find and exploit weaknesses.
Judge, who has found a home in the No. 2 spot in the batting order just like Alonso, was able to come out of his slumps and have sustained success.
Alonso’s sample-size to date may be small, but it allows both Mets’ fans and the organization to dream on his potential over a 162-game season.
“You just start to learn [pitchers’] patterns, that’s the biggest thing,” said Judge, who was able to rediscover his superstar form in September 2017. “The first couple weeks, people will start to attack you here — they’ll go hard fastballs in and soft stuff away. And then once you can cover the fastballs in then they’ll say now let’s try to go fastballs away and maybe curveballs early. It’s just a constant pattern, so basically it’s just trying to stay on top of it.”
Judge felt fortunate because he was able to lean on smart veterans like Matt Holliday during the adjustment process.
“That’s where I was blessed, having other guys in the lineup that kind of hit like me, that hit for some power and I could kind of watch,” Judge said. “Especially in 2017, how they attacked [Matt] Holliday. For someone like him, he continues to watch film and see what they’re trying to do to him. That’s the fun part. That’s where it gets interesting.”
Scouts wonder whether Alonso can keep it up.
“He’s been a big surprise,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “His best tool is obviously his power, but he’s hitting a lot better than I thought he would average-wise. He’s a little bit of a liability at first. He’s not a great defender or runner, but he’s certainly got power.”
Added another scout who last saw Alonso up close at the 2018 Arizona Fall League, “He stayed on fastballs really well. His only real weakness was breaking balls away from him. But pitchers are going to have to execute against him.
“He’s a plus-power bat. I wasn’t totally taken back by his defense. He’ll make some reactionary plays that surprise you, but the routine play wasn’t easy. It could be a big benefit with the DH possibly coming to both leagues.”
Regardless, Pete Alonso has suddenly made the Mets and their revamped offense very interesting again, his at-bats quickly becoming must-see TV.
Aaron Judge remains that guy for the Yankees. And both Alonso and Judge know that feeling of blasting a no-doubt-about-it bomb. Their power-hitting prowess could make for an intriguing Subway Series come June at The Stadium.
“The ball just jumps,” Judge said. “It’s one of the best feelings in sports, when you’re really about to square one up.”
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