Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Zoilo Almonte and the Future of RF in New York

Borrowed from Greg at Evil Empire Prospects

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.

Could Pineda Open the Season in the Minors?

According to George A. King III, it's definitely a possibility:
Paperwork might determine what the Yankees pitching rotation looks like, and it's not out of the question Michael Pineda could start the season at Triple-A.

Wednesday, for the second straight day, manager Joe Girardi mentioned minor league options and how they may factor into the four-arm competition for the three spots left after CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

"That's a possibility,'' Girardi said about a hurler being sent to the minors to start the season. "Some of the guys have options if that's what we need to do. But if it makes us a better team putting them in the bullpen we might do it.''

Phil Hughes has one option remaining, as does Ivan Nova, and Pineda has all three options left, so they can be sent out with fear of being lost. Hughes has 4 years and 113 days of service time. When he gets to five years (in 67 days) he can't be reassigned without permission.

Pineda makes his third exhibition start Thursday against the Nationals and the Yankees will be looking closely to see if the large right-hander's velocity starts to climb.
The article did go on to mention that options might not even be an issue because the guy who doesn't earn the rotation spot could always be added to the bullpen. But options aren't the entire story either.
When 23-year-old Pineda arrived in camp and admitted he was 10 pounds above the 270 he ended last season, the Yankees weren't too concerned because they really didn't know him. Now, they are staying the course when it comes to arm strength, an issue with Hughes last spring that led to a nightmare of a season and may have been the reason he missed significant time with an inflamed right shoulder.

"Some guys are a little bit slower coming along than others,'' Girardi said. "We haven't had him in spring training to really know how he is. We don't want him to conserve but we also want him to be ready to throw 95 to 96 when he is doing it. I don't want him going out there and just airing it out just so he can hit 95, 96 on the gun.''

Girardi is taking into account Pineda's age and one year of big league experience that consisted of a strong first half last season and a drop off in the second.

"You have to see how a guy does and how he responds,'' Girardi said. "This is not a kid who is 27 or 28 years old. Some of these springs are uncharted for him, too. As long as he is going in the right direction, that's the important thing for me.''

Spring Training 3/14/12

The Yankees faced the unbeaten Blue Jays today in Grapefruit League play and the Blue Jays left the game still unbeaten with a 7-5 win today over the Yanks. Edwin Encarnacion hit a pair of home runs and JP Arencibia had one of his own in route to the win. Encarnacion was busy with the bat because he hit a line drive come backer off of Yankees pitcher Freddy Garcia's right hand and he was taken out of the game immediately. The Yankees offense came from a two run double by Doug Bernier and a two run single by DeWayne Wise in the 7th inning but it was not enough to earn the come back win. Curtis Granderson had the other rbi with an rbi double off the Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez.

Freddy Garcia was taken out of the game and diagnosed with a hand contusion (bruise) and was sent for x rays. The x rays have come back negative so that is a great sign and a great bit of news. Who knows if he will miss any time but I think one start would be a safe assumption.

We also got an update on Nick Swisher, who was taken out of the game today due to tightness in his groin. According to reports Nick was seen moving around the clubhouse with no problems and no limp. No tests were scheduled and since he was not scheduled to travel with the team tomorrow anyway I think this was just precautionary.

David Robertson ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes with no soreness or anything today and he could possibly throw a bullpen session as early as this weekend.

MSI and Bernie Williams

I'm really excited as I'm going to see Mindless Self Indulgence tonight. Not a lot of people know about this band, but they are great, and even better live. So I'm in music-mode today, which got me thinking about Yankees and former Yankees that play music. And, of course, that led me to Mr. Bernie Williams.