One of my favorite stats to look at in Spring Training is plate appearances. Absolutely devoid of the whiff of results-based analysis in a small sample, plate appearances can tell us who the team likes, and who the team wants to run out there every day. So, despite the fact that he’s hitting .148/.209/.295 this spring, I’m excited about Abraham Almonte. He’s leading the Mariners in plate appearances!
Even if you buy the idea that Almonte is the starting center fielder for the Mariners in 2014, and that the team will score more runs this year so his counting stats won’t be horrid, there’s still the matter of deciding how much you like him. Do you like him in your 12-team AL-only? Sure. But do you like him in your twelve-team mixer?
Let’s start with the first assumption, that Almonte is the starting center fielder. The incumbent may have been Michael Saunders, at least against right-handed starting pitchers. Against righties, Saunders has only been 8% worse than league average with the stick. The last two years he’s been above league average. But his center field defensive numbers have been below average the last couple of years, in 1500+ innings out there, and his glove may have slipped to the corners, and now he’s being mentioned as the right fielder with Corey Hart starting mostly at DH. Contender number two was Dustin Ackley, who’s had a hot spring but was moved to left field. So now you have Abraham Almonte, starting virtually every spring game in center field.
So even if we grant the man that was traded for reliever Shawn Kelley the starting job, we still have work to do. The bottom end of his projections say he could struggle to hit .240 with double-digit homers or steals. That sounds like a warm body for deep leaguers.
In order for him to be relevant in shallower leagues, Almonte will have to cut the strikeouts. The more pessimistic projections have his strikeout rate close to 25%, just about where he was last year in a short sample (82 PA). Looking over his minor league career, you’ll see enough years with 20+% strikeout rates that you can understand where that pessimism is coming from. On the other hand, if you only take seasons where the sample is reliable for K% (100+PA), his rates look a little different: 18.4% (Rookie), 20.4% (Low-A), 16.7% (Low-A), 16.3% (High-A), 16.4% (Double-A), 23.3% (Double-A), 16.8% (Triple-A). And that 23.3% was only in 120 plate appearances — it looks like he’s cut his rate when given more time at a level, a good sign that he’s studying up and learning pitcher tendencies.
The speed has been fairly consistent, as he’s stolen 30+ every healthy year save last year, when he stole 27 (against eight caught stealings). His isolated slugging percentage has been above .100 every full year, too, and it’s improved generally as he’s moved along. League average power (.145 ISO) is within his reach. In the minors, he had plus walk rates every year save one, so it would be fair to pencil him in for an increase there. He’s a switch-hitter, and though he wasn’t great against lefties last year, he was able to thrive as a slap-hitter against lefties in the minors, so he’s not necessarily a platoon bat. And obviously the team likes his defense in center. So he’s a great pickup in deeper leagues.
But for Abraham Almonte to be relevant in shallower leagues, he’ll need to improve upon his strikeout rate. The projections that have him closer to 20% strikeout rates think he could hit .260 with double-digit home runs. Add to that 20+ stolen bases, and you’re starting to talk about a fifth outfielder in 14-team leagues. And then, when you look at his spring training strikeout percentage (66 plate appearances in) and see his 15.2% strikeout rate so far this spring (a 10.4% improvement that just barely missed the cut for this leaderboard of spring strikeout rate improvers) — then you realize there might just be a little upside beyond.
I had Almonte at 76th in the outfielder consensus rankings because I projected him as the starter in center. Looking at the overall ranks, I’m comfortable there, but might take him after the relative high floor of a guy like Denard Span, depending on the structure of my team. Perhaps he should be hovering in the mid 80s among outfielders right now. He could be an ottoneu outfielder now, given the deep benches and the use you can get out of a $1 vs-RHP platoon OF bat.
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