McNeil & Alonso Following in the Footsteps of Plawecki and Reynolds

In June of 2014 Kevin Plawecki and Matt Reynolds were promoted to AAA from Binghamton, after hitting .326 and 355, respectively. Jeff McNeil and Peter Alonso are  following in their footsteps four years later, hitting .328 and .345, respectively, so far this season. While Alonso has gotten all the headlines, being a second-round draft pick out of the University of Florida in 2016, McNeil’s 12 homers are actually one more than Alonso’s 11! McNeil was a 12th round pick out of California State University in 2013 and amazingly, entering this season he had hit only nine home runs in his minor league career!

The homer surge from the 26-year-old McNeil can be traced to his being totally healthy, as his development has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, as well as adding bulk to his frame.  He was named the EL Player of the Week for the period ending May 20th; during this incredible week he hit five homers, collected 14 hits in 36 at-bats, and hit for the cycle! McNeil is now on the radar of the Mets’ front office, and a promotion to Vegas should occur before June is done. McNeil’s versatility is also a plus, as he can play 2B, SS, and 3B. He is the only one of the current quartet of Mets’ middle infield prospects who hits with power (the other prospects being Gavin Cecchini, Phil Evans, and Luis Guillorme).

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McNeil is safe at third against Erie on April 2st.

For those Binghamton fans wondering what will become of the Rumble Ponies after McNeil and Alonso leave, they are heartened by what happened in 2014 after Plawecki and Reynolds went to Vegas–T.J. Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Steven Matz, and Dilson Herrera were among those that replaced them, called up from St. Lucie. They all helped Binghamton capture the EL crown in 2014!

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Is Alonso’s Promotion Imminent?

In a word, yes.

On Saturday Dominic Smith played right field for the Las Vegas 51s and batted third. It was the first time in Smith’s career that he played a position other than first base in the field. The move makes sense for the Smith and the Mets; the Mets value versatility and if Smith can play the outfield AND first base, it can only increase his potential value. His loss of 35 pounds this year no doubt opened the door for the Mets to try him in the outfield. Interestingly, however, the move also promotes speculation that Peter Alonso, who is having a great year for Binghamton, will be promoted to Vegas in the very near future. Smith’s ability to play the outfield allows Alonso and Smith to be in the lineup at the same time at Vegas, with Alonso and Smith also taking turns DHing and playing first base.

Alonso is having one of the all-time great seasons for Binghamton. His year compares favorably with Michael Conforto, who was promoted to the Mets straight from Binghamton in 2015; before Conforto’s promotion, one has to go back to 2004 to find another player who had numbers similar to Alonso’s— David Wright. The following table shows the Double-A statistics for Conforto, Wright and Alonso.

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The table shows just how remarkable Alonso’s year has been, as he has been more productive than Conforto and Wright, and has done it in far fewer at-bats. When you add in the 11 games and 45 at-bats that Alonso accumulated last season for the Rumble Ponies, it becomes obvious that Alonso’s time in Binghamton is indeed short, as his Double-A time puts him slightly ahead of Conforto and only a few games and at-bats behind Wright.

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Alonso connects on one of his 11 homers for the Ponies. 

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The Binghamton Baseball Education of Tim Tebow

Memorial Day is the traditional “assessment day” in baseball; two months of playing baseball usually gives fans a long enough view that they can assess their team’s chances of making post season play. With Tim Tebow now having approximately two months of Double-A baseball behind him, now provides a good time to look at his progress. As of this writing Tebow has a slash line of .259/.339/.444 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) in Double-A, which is a dramatic improvement over his season-long slash line from Single-A ball last year, which read .226/.309./347.

Tebow has clearly dedicated himself to baseball, subjecting himself to the daily grind of minor league life, while missing out on numerous opportunities to generate revenue through his speaking fees and personal appearances. He has shunned the celebrity life to improve his baseball skills and the results are showing up this year.  I had the chance to see Tebow work out on the back fields of the Mets spring training complex in Port St. Lucie last year and now, after getting a chance to watch him numerous times in Binghamton, I’ve noticed significant differences in his swing. These differences have no doubt played an important role in his improvement.

This year Tebow has a shorter swing, as he keeps his hands closer to his body, shortening his path to the ball and “quickening” his swing.  He also has developed a keen eye at the plate and has learned to look for pitches he can drive. He has even transformed his body a bit, as he has become a bit leaner, trading flexibility for bulk. During batting practice sessions he has been a tireless worker, taking advantage of down time by incorporating additional fielding practice and chatting with manager Luis Rojas and roving minor instructor Lamar Johnson about hitting mechanics.

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Tebow works on his fielding while awaiting his turn in the batting cage.

Tebow still has a long way to go to become a major leaguer, with his age and strikeout totals working against him—his strikeout rate this season is an astronomical 46% and he will turn 31 on August 14th, which is ancient for a Double-A player. His strikeout rate sat at 29% last year in 430 at-bats.  Nonetheless, his overall improvement has been dramatic and he has shown he clearly belongs on a baseball field. If he can maintain his level of improvement, he has a real chance to become a big leaguer. Remember, before last year, the last time he had played any type of organized baseball was high school!

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Tebow has a traditional batting stance, with his legs spread slightly wider than his shoulders and his hands held shoulder high as he begins his swing.

Luis Rojas, manager of the Rumble Ponies, has been impressed with Tebow’s raw power.   On most days that Binghamton plays a night game, Rojas can be found working out at the Court Jester workout facility in Johnson City in the morning. Recently I had a brief conversation with Rojas while he took a break from his workout. I mentioned how I had recently watched a batting practice session where Tebow had launched three balls well over the fences at NYSEG Stadium. Rojas’s eyes got wide as he said, ”You know, I had never seen him play before this spring and his power is amazing, I was so impressed.”  I commented on the challenge of translating batting practice to game action and Rojas elaborated. “We’ve been working with him to be quicker to the ball, to pull it more, to take advantage of his power. He’s a hard worker and has been making good progress.” Rojas has become an expert watcher of the long ball this season, with Peter Alonso, Jeff McNeil, and Patrick Mazeika having hit 11, 8, and 6 home runs, respectively.

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Note how Tebow has dropped his hands as his swing progresses; his slight “bat wrap” is also seen here. If Tebow can make his “load” be more “straight back,” continued success should follow. 

Tebow’s immediate challenges are clear. First and foremost, he needs to decrease his strikeouts—as alarming as his strikeout rate is, he also has an impressive .483 batting average when he puts balls in play. He also needs to continue to translate his raw batting practice power into “game” power. Defensively, he is currently limited to left field, and he needs to get better jumps on fly balls as well as charge ground balls better. The presence of Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso in the Mets organization preclude any thoughts of giving Tebow any time as a first baseman, so Tebow’s bat will have to get him to the big leagues; defense and versatility are not current assets for him.

 

All in all, though, Tebow has to be taken seriously as a baseball player. His commitment is unquestionable and his rate of improvement from year to year is impressive.

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WHY P.J. CONLON STARTED FOR THE METS ON MONDAY…

When the Mets front office changed its mind and decided to put Jacob deGrom on the disabled list on Sunday, it opened a spot for a starter against the Reds last night. The Mets did not want to disrupt the bullpen, so giving the start to Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo was not seriously considered. The two logical choices from Vegas, Chris Flexen or Corey Oswalt, had pitched too recently to be called on to take the spot start. Because crafty lefty P.J. Conlon last pitched on Tuesday, May 1st, and his turn in the rotation for Vegas was Sunday, so he became a logical choice for Sandy Alderson to take deGrom’s spot for Monday night. Also working in Conlon’s favor was that he had impressed manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland with his ability to change speeds and command his pitches during spring training.

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Conlon unleashes a fast ball last April for Binghamton.

Conlon’s stats in Vegas were a bit misleading, as his bloated 6.75 E.R.A. was largely due to his second start of the season, when he gave up 6 earned runs against El Paso in 3.1 innings.  Conlon, rated as high as the 24th best prospect for the Mets, was a mainstay in the Binghamton rotation from April through July in 2017, becoming an Eastern League All Star, until the front office had him work out of the bullpen for the final month of the season.

Last night Conlon responded with three outstanding innings, allowing only one hit and one run. He even got his first major league hit, a single up the middle, which electrified the twenty or so family members and friends who flew in to see his major league debut. Conlon did not get out of the fourth inning, however, as he gave up two runs while retiring only one hitter. In the fourth, Conlon  had trouble getting a good grip on the ball, as he had slightly jammed his thumb on his base hit in the top of the fourth.

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Conlon will always remember his ML debut at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. Pictured above is the main entrance to the stadium, which captures a bronze image of Joe Nuxall pitching to Frank Robinson, with Ernie Lombardi catching. All three are members of Cincy’s Hall of Fame!

Ironically, no matter how well he might have pitched last night, Conlon’s stay with the Mets should be brief, as no doubt the Mets will send him back to Vegas to get a fresh arm in the bullpen. With Jason Vargas, who has been dramatically ineffective in his two starts this year, pitching tonight, there is some concern that the Mets might need to go to the bullpen early.

All in all though, it was a great night for Conlon and the Mets feel he can be called on again to provide some quality innings. Ironically, with his 88 mph fast ball and excellent changeup, Conlon can be called a “young Jason Vargas,” who despite his slow start to this season, has proven to be an effective major league starter over the past decade.

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Last season Conlon appeared to be talking to the ball during Twilight Zone Night last summer at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium.

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Hard-Working Alonso Opening Eyes of Fans and Talent Evaluators

by Jim Maggiore

Watching the pre-game practices of the Rumble Ponies this season has been a real treat for season ticket holders. Besides seeing tape measure homers every afternoon from Tim Tebow, Peter Alonso, and John Mora, the fans have also seen the work ethic of Peter Alonso pay off in a big way.

Alonso is constantly working on his defense, whether he is taking infield practice or manning first base while his teammates are getting their swings in. As coaches hit him grounder after grounder, he has shown increased range and flexibility around the first base bag. To help his reflexes, he even has taken grounders at third. While fans love watching Alonso launch high fly home runs during batting practice, they also appreciate his diligence in improving his glove work.

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April’s cold weather has not dimmed Alonso’s passion for improving his fielding reflexes. Here he takes some grounders at third. 

Alonso has become a true fan favorite, never turning down an autograph request, whether a fan asks for one or half a dozen or so.  Recently Harold “Tuffy” Schalk, who grew up in Brooklyn watching the likes of Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson play, told Alonso,  “I’ve been coming to batting practice for a few years now and I’ve never seen a harder worker than you.” As Alonso signed some cards for Schalk, he humbly responded “Thank you. I take pride in working hard and getting better defensively every day.”

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Contact! Alonso missed squaring up this offering against Erie on April 21st.

In a recent article on Metsmerizedonline.com Michael Mayer noted how Alonso’s prospect status has increased since the season has started. Mayer quotes Keith Law, a well-known talent evaluator, who has been impressed with Alonso’s development. “Alonso would be a top 100 prospect now (given some graduations and some new looks at him) and I think he’s an above average regular at least.”

In 63 at-bats so far this season, Alonso has put together an incredible offensive line: .397/.500/.730 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage), while only making two errors in the field.

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Monroe’s Mantra: “Sports Brings People Together”

by Jim Maggiore

The sold out crowd of approximately 450 people gave Earl Monroe a standing ovation when he was done speaking at the 4th annual induction dinner for the Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame, which was held at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Binghamton on Monday, April 23rd. Monroe’s theme during the night was one of unity, as he stressed that the beauty of sports is that it brings people together. He noted that when he played for the Knicks, he played alongside two Rhodes Scholars (Bill Bradley and Jerry Lucas), a doctor (Dick Barnett), and Walt Frazier, who remains a close friend to this day. “Basketball brought us all together and we still stay in touch today,” remarked Monroe.

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Monroe shares a laugh with the crowd. Roger Neel, master of ceremonies, especially enjoyed Monroe’s remarks.  

Regarding Frazier, who like Monroe was drafted in the first round of the 1967 basketball draft, Monroe explained that Walt told him early on that “New York was my town.” By focusing on bring a championship to New York, Monroe and Frazier overcame a slow start in their relationship to form a lifelong bond today.

“I grew up in Philadelphia and basketball made me move South in the 60s, as I went to play college ball at Winston-Salem University,” Monroe explained early in his speech. He then quickly demonstrated the aplomb that years of public speaking has taught him as he drew a round of laughter when he stated, “and being a black man and going from the North to the South in the 60s was probably the opposite of what a smart person might have done.”   As for his stay at Winston-Salem, it wasn’t without its challenges. Monroe explained how he wanted to transfer from Winston-Salem after his freshman year. “I was scoring all these points off the bench, but I wasn’t starting and I felt I should be playing more, so I told the coach I was going to leave. Early in this chat, coach stopped me and told me to wait a bit. He made a phone call, and told the person on the other end I planned to leave school.” Monroe now briefly paused in telling his story, as he stretched out the silence in the ballroom a bit. “My mother was on the other end and she told me in no uncertain terms that I was staying at Winston-Salem,” Monroe concluded as the ballroom broke out in appreciative laughter.

Regarding his trade to New York from Baltimore in time for the 1972 season, Monroe said that New York was his kind of town. “I liked to stay out late. I was the type of guy that liked to wake up at 11 at night and go out on the town. I liked the idea that New York was the city that never slept.” In further explaining his move from Baltimore to New York, Monroe subconsciously weaved his love of basketball with his lifelong love of music. “I had to adjust my rhythm to the rhythm of the Knicks, from where things revolved around me to where I had to fit in with my new team,” remarked Monroe as he started to swivel his hips a bit and subtly raise his arms up and down as if he were still dribbling a basketball.

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Two Champions share a moment. Monroe won his with the Knicks in 1973, while Bill Kenville, a 2018 GBSHOF inductee, won his with the Syracuse Nationals in 1955.

During his playing days Monroe not only had a smooth rhythm on the court, but he was also known for his moves off the court. After his playing days were over, Monroe worked in the music industry for forty years, producing various shows. Music has always held a special interest for him and the audience broke out in applause when he talked about a special song he produced. “One of my biggest post-playing days thrills was to produce a song titled ‘We are All One,’ I feel it was the most important song I ever was involved with.”

 

Besides focusing on the unity of sports, Monroe stressed the importance of making the most of the opportunities that one gets during the course of a lifetime. “Opportunity knocks at every door,” remarked Monroe, “but it’s up to you to unlock that door” he succinctly offered.

After finishing his speech, Monroe answered a series of questions from the audience. He left his audience laughing in one of his final remarks, as he referred to his autobiography, “Earl the Pearl: My Story,” which he coauthored with Quincy Trope in 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Knicks’ championship. “I think we only sold ten or so copies and I signed them all tonight,” a smiling Monroe stated.

Hall Notes: The 15 GBSHOF inductees in the class of 2018:

  1. Chris Coleman, U.S. Olympian (bobsled)
  2. Doreen Denmon, softball
  3. Jason Goldman, wrestling
  4. Mark Gumble, wrestling
  5. George Herrick, soccer
  6. Richie Karl, golf
  7. Bill Kenville, basketball
  8. Frank Little, U.S. Olympian, trapshooting
  9. Tom Mitchell, hockey
  10. Ed Stack, sporting goods
  11. Michael Starke, tennis
  12. Frank Sorochinsky, wrestling
  13. Charlie Tarricone, basketball
  14. Randy Will, U.S. Olympian (bobsled)
  15. Tom Yelverton, pole vaulting.
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Magliozzi Becomes the Newest Rumble Pony as Bautista Gets the Call to Citi Field

26-year-old Johnny Magliozzi, a right-handed relief pitcher, is taking the Rumble Ponies’ bullpen spot of Gerson Bautista, who was called up to the majors by the Mets on Tuesday, April 17th. Magliozzi appeared in 44 games last season for St. Lucie, saving 6 games while posting a 3.16 E.R.A. in 67.2 innings. This year Magliozzi, who was drafted in the 17th round of the 2013 amateur draft by the Mets, allowed 1 earned run in two innings of work for St. Lucie.

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Magliozzi delivers a pitch with his three-quarters arm slot during a minor league game at Port St. Lucie this March. 

Bautista, 22, excelled in the early season for the Ponies, only allowing two hits in five innings and striking out eleven batters. The hard throwing Bautista, who can reach triple digits with his fastball,  came over to the Mets organization as part of the trade with the Red Sox for Addison Reed last August. The Red Sox signed Bautista as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2014.

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Bautista was all smiles on opening night (April 5th), when he got the last out of the game against Portland.  

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