Mets Come Calling for 2017 Ducks Batting Champ
Good things often come to those who wait.
That saying could not be truer for Giovanny Alfonzo. After putting together the best season of his professional career with the Ducks in 2017, the infielder had to wait all offseason for a Major League organization to call. Fortunately, the New York Mets did just that late last week, offering him the opportunity to join the team for spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“I got a phone call from [Mets Director of Minor League Operations] Ronny Reyes, and he invited me to come to a workout/free agent tryout type of deal,” Alfonzo remarked via telephone this week. “After it was all done, nothing too much was said. Just, ‘Thanks for coming, you looked great, keep up the good work and we’ll be in contact with you if something comes up.’”
The 25-year-old was gearing up for a return to Long Island. He had already signed a contract to play a second season with the Ducks, and he was looking forward to making the trek north in approximately one month. Instead, Alfonzo needed to reverse course and head further south from his home in Tampa to earn a place in the Mets’ system.
“A few days [after the tryout], I got my Ducks uniform on and was ready to do a video to announce that I signed back with the Ducks,” Alfonzo recalled. “Right when I put on my shirt, that’s when my agent called me, and that was pretty cool.”
Of all 56 players that put on the Ducks uniform in 2017, few, if any, were more deserving of this opportunity than Alfonzo. He led the team in batting average, hitting .309 over the course of 106 games during the regular season. That average was good for sixth-best in the Atlantic League. He also set career-highs in nearly every other offensive category, many by a wide margin. Yes, last year was just his third in pro ball. However, the dramatic increase in production despite playing against higher-caliber talent was certainly impressive.
“Playing in the Atlantic League, I got the experience of being a Major Leaguer in the sense that I was playing Major League Baseball,” Alfonzo opined. “Most of the pitchers from the other teams were Double-A, Triple-A or Major Leaguers. I learned a lot from the pitchers that threw against me. I’ve played at a high level, and I can say I’ve hit against big leaguers and gotten big hits against big leaguers. That’s something that I’ll use as confidence and take with me to each at-bat that I have.”
Here’s a closer look at Alfonzo’s career progression:
|2015 – Batavia (A-)||2016 – Greensboro (A)||
2017 – Ducks (IND)
|Runs Batted In||
Along with the challenge of facing tough competition and experienced players, Alfonzo also needed to find a way to earn playing time. He came to Long Island in a utility infield role behind the likes of veterans such as Dan Lyons, Cody Puckett and Elmer Reyes. However, some key injuries among his teammates forced Alfonzo into the spotlight early.
“The week that [Nolan] Reimold went down, that was the week that I got my feet wet,” he said. “I was able to play seven days in a row. That’s when I gave myself credit for being able to play in the Atlantic League, because it is high-level baseball.”
During the week he filled in for Reimold, Alfonzo hit safely in every game and compiled a .381 batting average (8-for-21). He then proceeded to collect walk-off RBIs in back-to-back games against the rival Somerset Patriots on May 19 and 20. By the end of the month, Alfonzo became the starting third baseman after Puckett went down with a season-ending knee injury. Thanks to his previous opportunity earlier in the month, the University of Tampa alum was ready to transition seamlessly.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Alfonzo affirmed. “I didn’t stress because I already knew I could play at that level. The only thing was, instead of going all out during practice to try and get my reps to stay in shape, I had to tone it down a little bit. I just took quality [swings in] batting practice and quality ground balls to be ready for each day rather than a thousand of each. That was the only real transition I had to make.”
There were several key factors that Alfonzo was able to point to regarding what made him successful last year. One was certainly the veterans that surrounded him, both in the Ducks clubhouse and that of his opponents. He was able to work with teammates every day on improving his craft and taking his game to the next level. In addition, the experience of those he faced in the opposite dugout forced Alfonzo to prove that he belonged on the same field with such competition.
“Having Delta [Cleary Jr.], Reyes, [Ruben] Gotay, [Marc] Krauss, Quintin [Berry], [Alex] Burg and all those guys with experience that were there for the majority of the season, each one of them taught me something different,” Alfonzo reminisced.
“It was just little things that we worked on throughout the entire season. A lot of it was mental and just not letting the game get to you. Just playing the game. I think that’s the reason why I had such great success.”
Along with those playing the game in the Atlantic League, Alfonzo was also able to enjoy some tutelage from another MLB veteran. That person just so happened to be his uncle, too. Former Ducks infielder Edgardo Alfonzo, who played 12 seasons in the big leagues, including eight with the New York Mets, worked with his nephew every day. Edgardo was in his first year managing the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Single-A affiliate of the Mets, and was able to watch Gio play and work with him when not on the job.
“I lived with [my uncle] last year, and he got to experience the season that I had with the Ducks every day,” Gio recalled. “Before I went to the stadium, we would watch my at-bats from the night before, or he’d talk to me about what I did the night before and how I feel.”
Now that 2017 is in his rearview mirror, Alfonzo is focused on what 2018 can bring. His ultimate destination at the culmination of spring training is unknown, as he will need to prove he belongs in the organization. However, he is not worried about what league or what city he might be playing in. He simply is looking for carpe diem; to seize the day.
“Basically it’s just ‘earn a spot,’” Alfonzo noted. “It’s a clean slate for spring training just like how it was when I was with the Marlins. Any player that goes through spring training with an affiliate knows everybody has to earn their spot for that season. They’re giving me an opportunity to prove what I have.”
Everyone, including his teammates, coaches and fans on Long Island, will be rooting for the popular infielder in his new opportunity with the Mets. They all want to see him playing under the lights at Citi Field one day. If the road leads him there, mission accomplished. Should it bring him back to Long Island, Alfonzo would welcome a return with open arms.
“That was a conversation I had with [Ducks President/GM Michael] Pfaff when I found out the Mets were bringing me to spring training,” he detailed. “I wanted to make sure that I was still a Duck regardless of what happened. He said, ‘D4L man, Duck for Life.’ If things happen, I’ll be coming back up there and playing for the remainder of the season whenever that time comes. I’ll always be a Long Island Duck, and I had the best time of my life last year. I’m going to miss those fans the most.”
Those same fans will certainly miss him. However, you can bet they will be following along, even if it’s from a thousand miles away.
Posted on March 6, 2018, in Feature Articles and tagged 2017, Atlantic League, Edgardo Alfonzo, giovanny alfonzo, Long Island Ducks, Major League Baseball, MLB, New York Mets, Port St. Lucie. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.