Archive for Zoilo Almonte
Aside from two years of darkness between Paul O’Neill and Gary Sheffield, the Yankees have had some really productive right fielders over the last 30 years or so. It goes back to Dave Winfield and Jesse Barfield in the 1980s up to Bobby Abreu and Nick Swisher in the late-2000s/early-2010s. All fit the typical Yankee mold of power and patience, but the team completely reversed course this winter and will have a new look in right field this coming season.
The Yankees decided a draft pick and financial flexibility was better than Swisher this offseason, so they replaced him with his polar opposite in Ichiro Suzuki. Swisher hits for power, Ichiro doesn’t. Swisher draws walks, Ichiro doesn’t. Swisher doesn’t steal bases, Ichiro does. Swisher swings and misses, Ichiro doesn’t. Swisher plays an average right field, Ichiro is much better. On and on it goes.
Of course, New York originally acquired Ichiro from the Mariners at the trade deadline for little cost because he simply stopped hitting, putting up a .268/.302/.342 batting line in his final 1,144 plate appearances with Seattle. That dates back to Opening Day 2011. His first 140 plate appearances in New York weren’t much better (.271/.297/.398), but he hit .394/.402/.532 in his final 100 plate appearances of the year. Ichiro either a) got comfortable all of a sudden, b) changed something mechanically, or c) just got lucky. Given his (and hitting coach Kevin Long’s) recent comments to Ken Davidoff, we can rule out (b).
Regardless of what was responsible for that September success, the Yankees have to hope it continues. They gave the 39-year-old Ichiro the only multi-year contract they handed out this winter (two years), a leap of faith at best and a stunningly poor decision at worst. It seems obvious off-field considerations like marketing and merchandise sales — Ichiro has an outside shot at reaching 3,000 hits late in 2014 — drove the contract while on-field impact was a secondary concern. In fairness, Ichiro is one of the few players with legitimate marquee value that transcends his on-field production. He’s a global star and will generate revenue for the team as long as he wears the uniform. Given Hal Steinbrenner’s admitted focus on the bottom line, this isn’t a surprise.
On the field, the Yankees are getting a contact machine who swings early and often, and will put the ball on the ground and use his speed to beat out infield hits. Yankee Stadium will surely boost Ichiro’s homer output somewhat, but all those ground balls limit his power ceiling. He’s a sterling defender with a lot of range and the best right field arm the Yankees have had since … Raul Mondesi? … but it plays down a bit because his release his slow. Maybe the Yankees will get vintage Ichiro!, the guy who hit .300+ in his sleep, or maybe they’re getting a near-40-year-old replacement level outfielder with name value. The club has to hope it’s the former (or at least someone in-between) because they pushed all their chips to the middle of the table on bet on those last three weeks of September.
As I’ve said the last two days, the backup outfielder is still very much undecided. The Yankees signed Ben Francisco to a minor league deal earlier this week and added him to a competition that includes Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz, Ronnie Mustelier, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Thomas Neal, and like ten other guys I’m problem forgetting. Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm has complicated things, meaning two of those players will make the roster rather than just one. Ichiro doesn’t have much of a platoon split — .283/.307/.342 against lefties the last two years — but the Yankees could use a better right field bat against southpaws. I think they consider him a full-time player, or at least a most-of-the-time player, meaning the backup outfielder — whoever that wins up being — will see most of his action in center and left.
Knocking on the Door
Brian Cashman recently told reporters the club has “future everyday right fielder scouting grades” on 23-year-old Almonte, who hit .278/.322/.488 (120 wRC+) with 21 homers and 15 steals in 450 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton last summer. Assuming he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training — I think it would be surprise given all of the other alternatives — he’ll open the season as the regular right fielder with Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees added Almonte to the 40-man roster after the 2011 season to prevent him from being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, so calling him up won’t be much of a headache. Even it’s just a cup of coffee in September, Zoilo will undoubtedly make his big league debut in 2013.
The Top Prospect
New York has one of the best right field prospects in baseball in 21-year-old Tyler Austin. I ranked him as their third best prospect overall in my preseason top 30 list due in large part to his monstrous offensive performance — Austin hit .322/.400/.559 with 17 homers and 23 steals (in 25 attempts) in 472 plate appearances across four levels in 2012 and .331/.406/.563 in 677 plate appearances since signing for just $130k as the team’s 13th round pick in 2010. He’s a right-handed hitter with a plan at the plate and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, though there are some questions about his long-term power potential because his swing is so level and doesn’t generate much backspin. Either way, Austin is scheduled to start the season with Double-A Trenton and could easily force his way into the big league picture by the end of the season if he keeps hitting like he has.
The Deep Sleeper
The obvious answer here is 21-year-old Yeicok Calderon, who managed a .270/.354/.478 (147 wRC+) line with a league-leading eight homers in 181 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees last summer. The Yankees signed him for $650k back in 2008, so he’s a little old for a GCL prospect and was repeating the level last year. Regardless, Baseball America says “Calderon’s bat is advanced, he controls the strike zone well and he has above-average power” from the left side. He’s not much of a defender, so his bat is going to have to carry him. Calderon should continue to mash in the low minors and figures to open the season with Low-A Charleston.
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I think it’s pretty clear the Yankees have downgraded in right field this season, but we have to acknowledge that Ichiro isn’t just a great player, he’s a historically great player. Historically great players tend to age differently and frankly, if Ichiro went out and hit .310/.350/.440 this season, it wouldn’t be the most surprisingly thing in the world. I don’t expect it, but it’s not impossible. The Yankees have nice right field depth in both Triple-A and Double-A, so they’re in okay shape in 2013 and beyond.
The dust has settled a little bit following the news of Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm on Sunday. The Yankees will be without their 40-homer
center left fielder for the next ten weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the season. It’s a big loss, no doubt about it, but they are lucky it happened so early in Spring Training. Things would have been a lot worse had he gotten hurt on March 24th instead of February 24th.
As expected, the Yankees insist they will plug their new outfield hole from within. The Johnny Damon talk has already fizzled out while the Alfonso Soriano talk never really got going. The only unsigned free agent outfielder who is both healthy and actually capable of playing the outfield everyday is Scott Podsednik. Thanks, but no thanks. The Yankees will stick with their internal options and see if (hope?) a better alternative pops up next month as camp winds down and roster spots are finalized. Here is a quick look at those internal options, listed alphabetically.
Almonte, 23, is a switch-hitter who managed a power-heavy 120 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton last year. He hit a career-high 21 homers and also stole 15 bases, though his miniscule walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout concerns (22.7%) seem to make skipping over Triple-A a risky proposition. Zoilo’s pop is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking.
Diaz was in the running for the right-handed outfield platoon bat role before Granderson’s injury, so it seems natural that he would be among the favorites for the job now. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t hit in three years (80 wRC+), due to in part to various injuries — getting stabbed in the hand by a palm tree and dealing with the subsequent infections chief among them. Diaz is on a minor league contract and was a total shot in the dark by the front office, who hopes he can recapture his 2006-2009 form (117 wRC+).
Here’s the darkhorse. The 27-year-old Garcia signed for $400k last summer and has impressed with his bat ever since, especially in winter ball (.292/.319/.481 with six homers in 39 games). As Baseball America wrote earlier this month, the right-handed hitter “is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature.” Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, which could hurt his chances.
Mesa, 26, is the best all-around player of the bunch. He can swing-and-miss from the right side with the best of ‘em (career-low 23.5 K% in 2012), but he’s hit at a better than average rate at each rung of the minor league ladder, including a ~125 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Mesa has power and speed — at least 19 homers and 19 steals in three of the last four years — to go along with standout defense and a strong arm. Among players in the organization who could legitimately see big league time this summer, Melky2.0 is probably the second best defender behind Brett Gardner. He got his first taste of the show last September.
Everyone loves the right-handed hitting Mustelier, the 28-year-old Cuban defector who has managed a ~144 wRC+ since signing for a measly $50k two years ago. His strikeout rate (13.0%) is strong, his walk rate (6.7%) slightly less so. The concern with Mustelier is his defense, which is poor and has gotten him moved down the defensive spectrum form second base to third to left over the last 20 months or so. He can hit a fastball though.
Neal, 25, seems to be the afterthought in all this. The righty swinger managed a 144 wRC+ with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in Double-A last year, making his big league debut with the Indians in September. He has some Triple-A time under his belt (277 plate appearances) and is solid defensively. Neal is a long shot, but he shouldn’t be written off completely. Like Garcia and Mustelier, he is not on the 40-man roster.
Like Diaz, the Yankees inked the 34-year-old Rivera to a minor league deal so he could complete for the right-handed bench bat role. The former Yankee is, by far, the most experienced and accomplished player in this post. He’s hit to the tune of a 92 wRC+ over the last three seasons and despite being a strong defensive player once upon a time, he’s now comfortably below-average. Rivera’s best attribute is his ability to put the ball in play (12.9 K% since 2010).
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Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster, but I have no reason to think the Yankees will jump him from High-A to MLB just to plug a one-month hole. Same goes with top prospects/non-40-man players Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin. If you want some projections for the players mentioned in this post, SG has you covered. Otherwise, time to vote…
Via George King (subs. req’d), outfielder Zoilo Almonte is headed home to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball in a few weeks. He played there last year, but only got into eleven games and hit .171/.216/.200 in 35 at-bats. The various winter leagues start in a few weeks, so more assignments should trickle out soon.
Almonte, 23, is on the 40-man roster and produced a 123 wRC+ with 21 homers in 450 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton this year. The switch-hitter has hit righties better than lefties throughout his career, though he only drew 23 unintentional walks in those 450 plate appearances this summer (102 strikeouts). Almonte figures to move up to Triple-A Scranton next year, but I suppose there’s an outside chance he’ll audition for the right field job if Nick Swisher is allowed to walk and the Yankees don’t bring in a viable replacement.
The Yankees are still dealing with their pitching questions this offseason, but as fans we can’t help but look ahead to future roster problems and wonder how they’ll be addressed. The outfield figures to be a hot topic next winter, when Nick Swisher becomes a free agent and the rest of the open market is pretty unappealing. If the Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, a homegrown Swisher replacement would be the best way to go.
Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t have any high-end outfield prospects close to the big leagues capable of replacing their current right fielder. Mason Williams is a potential star but is also four levels away from the show. Slade Heathcott hasn’t had a full, healthy season since turning pro, and Kelvin DeLeon inches closer to being a $1.1M bust with each swing and miss. Of course the Yankees don’t need to replace Swisher with a star prospect; they’ve shown you can win the World Series with guys like Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis and Gerald Williams roaming an outfield corner.
Perhaps the best hope for a homegrown outfielder in 2013 is a prospect that gets little hype, at least compared to Williams and Heathcott. The Yankees added Zoilo Almonte to the 40-man roster after the season, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft but also showing confidence in his ability to contribute in some capacity down the line. He posted a .402 wOBA with High-A Tampa during the first half of 2011 before producing a .308 wOBA with Double-A Trenton in the second half. Like Brett Gardner in his prospect days, Almonte has struggled at a new level each time he’s been promoted at midseason before hitting his stride the next time around.
A switch-hitter, Almonte is almost a poor man’s version of Swisher at the plate. He draws a decent number of walks (9.1% at High-A and above) and hits for okay power (.155 ISO at High-A and above), though most of his pop is into the gaps rather than over the fence at age 22. He performed better against left-handed pitchers both last year and throughout his career, but that’s not terribly surprising for the natural right-handed hitter. Add in solid but unspectacular defense and 15+ stolen base ability, you’ve got someone with the potential to develop into a big league regular down the line. The Yankees obviously believe he can do it sooner rather than later, otherwise they wouldn’t have protected him from the Rule 5 Draft.
The last two times the Yankees worked a homegrown outfielder into the regular lineup, they went about it in very different ways. Injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield pressed Melky Cabrera into everyday duty whether the team liked it or not, but Gardner got broken in slowly during the 2008 and 2009 seasons before getting a full-time job in 2010. The latter is obviously preferred if you’re talking about someone less than a star prospect (a Mike Trout or Desmond Jennings), so the Yankees would still need to invest in a solid fourth outfielder or platoon partner if they decide Swisher is too rich for their taste and intend to see what they have in Almonte.
With the deadline to set the 40-man roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft looming, the Yankees added RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, OF Zoilo Almonte, IF Corban Joseph, and IF David Adams to the 40-man roster today. The first three guys are not surprising at all, as I explained yesterday.
Joseph, drafted out of high school in 2008, was eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft because he graduated at 19 years old, so he had to protected one year earlier than usual. Adams is somewhat surprising to me; he’s missed the majority of the last two seasons following a brutal ankle injury suffered last May. He’s played in just 29 games since, so the Yankees must feel pretty good about his health if they protected him.
There’s only spot on the 40-man roster left open now, so some guys will get the axe as the Yankees add players this offseason. Kevin Whelan is probably first in line to go, and something will have to give with the out-of-options trio of Greg Golson, Justin Maxwell, and Chris Dickerson.
It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.
Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.
The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.
The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.
Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).
That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.
Charleston lacks the pitching prowess of Tampa’s sparkling rotation, but they certainly have quite a few promising players in their own right. Charleston features the top draft picks of ’09 — center fielder Slade Heathcott and catcher J.R. Murphy — and arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization, right-handed Jose Ramirez. As we’ve done for AAA, AA and Hi-A, let’s take a longer look at some of the top players’ overall seasons and how they’ve performed of late.
Low-A Season: 33.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, 37 hits, 21 runs, 8 BB, 26 K, 1.38 GO/AO
Last three starts: 14.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, 14 hits, 11 runs, 10 BB, 10 K
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Ramirez made his professional debut in 2009, where all he did was earn Pitcher of the Year honors out of the GCL. Yeah, his stock definitely rose. Armed with a fastball known to hit 96 and a very developed changeup, Ramirez has again largely impressed, if a bit inconsistent. The one thing that jumps out at you is that he has yet to give up a home run this year. Like, not even one. His K/BB rate is quite nice at 2.83 and the K/9 is close to 9. As I mentioned, consistency is key. He’s really struggled in June, posting an ERA of 6.75 with 14 hits and 10 walks in a shade under 15 innings. I’m not all that concerned, but it sure would be nice to see him hit his early season performance and possibly hit Tampa later in the year.
Low-A Season: 70.2 IP, 3.44 ERA, 61 hits, 33 runs, 23 BB, 65 K, 0.86 GO/AO
Last three starts: 16.1 IP, 2.44 ERA, 10 hits, 4 runs, 3 BB, 16 K
Heredia has the talent. There’s no doubt about that. The question is his durability and how he progresses given his setbacks. He probably hung out a lot with Christian Garcia in the Yankee Minor League Infirmary over the past few years. He’s had shoulder injuries galore, losing large chunks of the 2007 and 2009 season. But when healthy he suffocates hitters with a heavy fastball, a very good curveball and a pretty decent changeup as a third offering. Development of the changeup stalled with 2009′s dead year and he struggled at Tampa in his brief time there. 2010 again was looking bleak. He’d been brutalized in Tampa, getting lit up for an ERA of 6.93 and 37 hits in 24 innings with only 14 strikeouts. Ouch.
He was demoted to Charleston again in May and he’s looked better, though he hasn’t wowed. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for Jairo. His GB rate is almost 50% in Charleston, he’s giving up less line drives and walking half as many batters. He’s still fairly young at just 20 years of age, has an advanced feel and despite his obstacles, has shut out the opposition in his last two starts.
Low-A Season: .313/.384/.391
Last ten games: .275/.348/.325, 2 XBH, 5 steals
Heathcott oozes tools. While his power isn’t developed per se, he has a muscular frame (look at his ams!) and surprising agility with a plus-arm in center field. Few have such raw athleticism. Heathcott spent three games in the GCL last year and was given the green light to jump to Charleston in 2010. Outside of Jesus Montero, this is the most exciting prospect in the system, so expectations are high.
How’s he done so far? Well, good and bad. Hard not to get excited about a guy who’s gotten a hit in all but one of his 15 games on the season. On the other hand, 15 strikeouts in 64 appearances is a bit much, though six walks isn’t too bad. Slade’s been largely –at least according to MiL Splits– hitting ground balls, at clip of 49%. His line drives are a bit low at 9.8%. Still, I’m not going to complain about an 19-year-old in A-ball hitting .313/.384/.391. Hopefully he’ll show some signs of better discipline and a flash of power, but there’s no reason to rush it. It’s only been 15 games. He’s also added six steals to the pot of goodies.
Low-A Season: .242/.296/.309
Last ten games: .275/.348/.300, 1 XBH, 1:1 BB/SO rate
The other of the toolsy top picks of 2009, Murphy was touted as a a pure hitter with the athleticism and feel to be a catcher down the road. I haven’t seen reports on how his defense has progressed, but his bat was slow in May down in historic Charleston. The catcher from Florida hit .222/.259/.315 that month. The beginning of June wasn’t terribly peachy either, but he’s turned it on of late, hitting a nicer .275 with a 1:1 SO/BB ratio. He’s really struggled against southpaws, hitting .231/.244/.308 against them. Again, as with Slade, there’s no concern at this point in the year. Neither were considered super-polished players that would jump the levels. It’s going to require patience but both are players with nice potential.
Low-A season: .278/.343/.491
Last ten games: .333/.415/.722 with 4 home runs and a 1:1 SO/BB rate.
You don’t hear much talk about Zoilo on the Yankee prospect chatter, but he’s quietly putting up a really nice season in South Carolina. Maybe people are jaded that he’s underperformed until last year, despite being a switch-hitter with seemingly good tools. I figured it was a fluke myself, but he might be putting himself in the picture as a legit prospect. He might be partially aided by a BABip of .351, but it’s hard to argue with the power emerging (10 home runs in 57 games). So while his batting average is likely inflated, the parks have bellied a bit of his power (neutralizing park and luck factors show a line of .260/.327/.507 with 13 home runs). The strikeouts are still concerning (65 in 224 AB’s – a 29% rate) and his overall on-base skills seem worse than last year, but there’s a lot to like about Zolio’s season. A guy with power/speed tools are worth watching. Hopefully he doesn’t hang out with Melky Mesa during his time in the Yankee farm system. Don’t want that rubbing off on you.
Low-A season: .192/.277/.291
Last ten games: .179/.256/.231, 2 XBH
Often thought of a Japanese import (at least to me anyway, due to the name), the man known as “Higgy” is actually a young catcher drafted by the Yankees for an over-the-slot bonus in 2008 out of California. Supposedly, he’s American and a solid defensive catcher. Anyway, he disappointed a bit with the bat in 2009, hitting .253/.333/.332 in Staten Island. On the other hand, he had a pretty good batting eye, striking out 31 times and walking 26 times in 217 PA’s. It’s rare to see such a young player with such a good approach. Still, it didn’t translate into results in 2009 and it hasn’t yet in 2010. He’s hitting below the Mendoza line, getting on base less than 28% of the time and hitting for Ramiro Pena-like power. With a glut of catchers up and down the ladder – from Montero to Romine to Murphy to Sanchez – Higgy may get lost in the shuffle pretty quickly if he can’t show some measure of progress. Worse yet, he’s striking out more and walking less. It may be he just hasn’t gotten into a rhythm yet.
Low-A season: N/A
Carmen Angelini is currently hitting .354/.442/.549 for my team in MLB The Show 2010, largely because deluding myself into thinking that is better than the outrageously high expectations I had for him, only to see him mimic my baseball aptitude as a Little Leaguer. Anyway, Angelini is on the DL roster of the Charleston Riverdogs. Hitting a cool .200 with trouble in the field will sour pretty much anyone on you, especially if you do it for a few years consecutive (don’t tell the Royals – they seem to actively seek players like that) so the expectations for Angelini are at an all-time low. I, for one, am really, really excited to see him. Please succeed, Carmen!
Other guys of note:
Rob Lyerly, 3B is hitting .314/.367/.411 with 1 home run. The errors are high, as are the strikeouts. The power, on the other hand, is low.
Luke Murton, 1B is hitting .291/.375/.498 with 8 homers. Murton is a bit old for the level (he’s 24), but he’s throwing together a nice season.
Taylor Grote, OF has posted a line of .242/.342/.387. His batting eye seems to have improved, but he’s still struggling in his third professional season. His power has improved, though.
DeAngelo Mack, OF has some good tools, but is like an NBA tweener. Probably not athletic enough to play CF, but lacks the strength and bat to play the corners. He’s disappointed this year, hitting .243/.340/.390 with four home runs, mostly playing right field.
Sean Black, SP likely a relief pitcher, Black, out of Seton Hall, has power stuff but erratic results. Not much has changed, as on the year he’s actually limited walks (good) but been hit around the park (not good), especially by right-handers, who have torched him for an ERA over 6.00. On the other hand, he’s kept lefties in check for the most part.