New York Yankees fans have heard incessant praise on big-name prospects such as Manny Banuelos, Gary Sanchez, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams over the last few years.
One new name that is quickly climbing toward that category with a hot start to Spring Training is outfield prospect Zoilo Almonte.
Though an admittedly brutal misplay in the outfield last night against the Red Sox cost the Yankees a chance at a win, Almonte has been a bright spot at a position with very little depth on the farm.
Joe Girardi wasted no time in letting anyone with a pen and paper know just what he felt about the youngster:
“His at-bats are really good,” Joe Girardi said today. “His defense has been good. He’s run the bases. Everything that you’d ask a player to do, he’s done. This is a young man that really kind of burst on the scene a little bit. He showed up on the radar, (and) we might really have something. He’s just continued to do it in camp. Has there been a hitter more productive?”
The YES Network broadcast team of Lou Piniella, Paul O’Neill and Michael Kay even went as far as to compare his quiet stance and quick hands to that of superstar slugger Robinson Cano—while quickly correcting that he does not project to reach that level of production.
A switch-hitter with quality pop in his bat, Almonte was ranked just 41st on New York’s top-50 prospect list by Pinstripes Plus Magazine. In their breakdown, Patrick Teale explained why Zoilo was so low on the list:
“Always considered a high-ceiling prospect, he has shown flashes of being a top-shelf talent but it is the inconsistencies that have held him back overall.”
It is clear when watching Almonte hit that he has all the tools to become a solid hitter at any level, but the Yankees’ challenge will be ensuring he avoids falling into bad habits and prolonged slumps.
Back in 2010, Almonte produced an .826 OPS and 10 HR in just 58 games in Low-A Charlston before struggling mightily in High-A Tampa.
He then figured out Tampa in a big way in 2011, as his .882 OPS, 14 SB and 12 HR in 70 games was by far his best performance at any level.
Trenton’s Double-A schedule proved to be too much for Almonte thereafter, but a big spring should be just the springboard he needs to conquer that level in 2012.
The lack of quality depth in the outfield at the Triple-A level could lead to a fast-rising progression if he keeps impressing the right people, and Yankees blogger Mike Axisa over at RiverAvenueBlues.com is hoping for a big-league promotion for 2013:
“A switch-hitter, Almonte is almost a poor man’s version of Swisher at the plate. He draws a decent number of walks and hits for okay power, though most of his pop is into the gaps rather than over the fence at age 22.Your browser does not support iframes.
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.”
Axisa’s general belief is that Almonte may just be the Yankees’ best choice to replace Nick Swisher in right field for 2013 if he is not re-signed, and they need an in-house short-term experiment in the Melky Cabrera mold.
Will Zoilo Almonte Be Yankees' Starting RF in 2013?
He has a long way to go in order to break into the 25-man roster in the Bronx, but the ingredients are all there to produce a quality MLB starter at a position that may soon be a priority for the Yanks.
Keep an eye on this kid as Spring Training marches on, as Joe Girardi followed up his high praise discussed earlier in the piece with two other Almonte-focused interviews during television broadcasts.
No-one hypes prospects quite as well as New York City, and Zoilo Almonte is the latest to be elevated to must-watch status.