Zoilo Almonte has a chance to fill the void in RF that could be left by Swisher, but it could be a while before he's ready for that. Image thanks to It's about the money stupid.
There is a lot to like about Zoilo Almonte. He has excellent tools, including solid speed, developing solid power, and very good arm. Zoilo has had an interesting pattern of moving through the minors since 2010. I have followed him since the beginning of 2010, when he began to break out in a major way. Starting in Charleston, he got off to a slow start in 2010, but then caught fire and by midseason had earned a promotion to High A Tampa. In Tampa, Almonte was able to hold his own for the rest of the 2010 campaign, but his power was decreased and he was unable to hit for average like he was during his hot streak. 2010 ended, and he started back at High A Tampa to start off 2011. His season in 2011 almost exactly mirrored the course of his season in 2010. He struggled out of the gait, and then caught fire, even more than he had in 2010. He got promoted to AA Trenton, and cooled off majorly, but held his own. Again, the power disappeared (12 HR in 259 at bats in High A, 3 HR in 175 at bats in Trenton). Now, we move onto this year's spring training, where Almonte has gone 4/10 with 2 doubles and no walks.
The man I like to call "Boilin" Zoilo Almonte has received more attention from the media and blogosphere this year than ever before. The contract of a certain beloved right fielder for the Yankees is coming off the books after this season, and it has the press taking notice of Zoilo. Many are writing that he could be the right fielder of the future. Watching the game last night, one radio announcer even compared his swing to fellow Dominican Robinson Cano from the left side(come on now). The hype is coming from a good place, and it is not completely unreasonable given Almonte's tools and recent performance, however I would caution that Zoilo still has a long way to go before he will be major league ready. It remains to be seen whether he will ever be anything more than a backup outfielder, or even a AAAA type player.
There are some other issues with Zoilo. Assuming he follows the same course as the last two seasons, then he will destroy AA pitching for the first half of the year, head to AAA midseason, and proceed to suffer a decrease in production in AAA while holding his own for the second half. This would mean he would not be major league ready by 2013, which is when the decision has to be made about resigning Swisher or signing another right fielder. Of course Almonte could surprise everyone and light it up in AA and AAA this season, but color me a skeptic on that one.
Almonte has also never produced above A ball yet. This season will be a huge test for him in AA, and there is no telling whether he will pass that test or not. He performed poorly in winter ball this year, hitting his the high .100's. I don't hold a ton of stock in that, but it is still something to consider. We have seen similar players stumble at AA. Melky Mesa is the most recent example. Mesa destroyed the ball in High A in 2010, and then couldn't hit a beachball in 2011 in AA. Almonte may not be able to make the adjustment to AA pitching. The key theme here is that he's far away.
It is important to mention that I really like Zoilo Almonte. When he is on one of his hot streaks, he is one of the best prospects to follow, and he's got all of the tools coaches dream about. He's still relatively young, as a 23 year old in AA this season, so it's not yet make or break time for him. He does a great job adjusting to each level, and his power AND stolen bases have improved every year since being signed by the Yankees. His batting line last season was a .276 average, 15 HR, 18 SB, 5 CS, a .345 OBP, and a .459 slugging percentage. He's a switch hitter, which is always a positive. He has great numbers, and great potential. He's a solid prospect with a chance to become something good in the major leagues somewhere down the line. Most importantly, his name is Zoilo.
While there are a lot of positives with Zoilo Almonte, I think developmentally he still has a long way to go before he can be considered the right fielder of the future. He has a lot of work ahead of him to become a successful major leaguer, and he is certainly not a sure thing. If things go really well for him this season, then it is possible he will be the answer to the void in right field. I think it is important to temper those expectations though, as Almonte is still relatively raw, and hasn't yet put together a full season of consistent statistics. Unfortunately, prospects like Almonte do have a high rate of failure. There is a high risk associated with guys like him, but there is also an even higher reward. The sky is the limit for this kid. He's already strong enough at the age of 23 to hit 15 HRs. His strength should only get better now.
Hopefully, Zoilo will get a shot in the major leagues at some point. I don't think he will be ready next season, but he has certainly made progress and hopefully will continue to do so. Almonte has been one of the most fun prospects to follow, and I wish him continued success in the future. Plus, with a name like Zoilo, how can you really go wrong.