Abraham Almonte has overcome a veritable minefield of obstacles on his way to the majors, the most obvious of which being his height. Originally signed by the Yankees as a 17-year-old, the diminutive Dominican stands just 5’9″. Upon acquiring him, the Yankees tried Almonte as a second baseman in rookie ball before quickly shifting him to the outfield.
For the next seven years, he worked his way slowly through the organization, finally reaching Double-A in 2012. By that point, Almonte was generally viewed as a quick, switch-hitting outfielder who lacked the power to play in a corner spot at the major-league level and had never hit .300 in the minors. He was still more than just organizational depth, but not enough of a prospect to land on any top prospect lists.
As mentioned previously, his height was not the only roadblock between Almonte and major-league success. He missed most of 2010 with a shoulder injury and faced down some personal demons in 2011, when he quit drinking in a successful effort to fight a serious alcohol problem. In 2012, after being moved up to Double-A, he was sidelined yet again, this time with a troublesome hamstring.
But something else happened in that 2012 season — Almonte’s offensive game started to show crucial signs of improvement. His plate discipline was the best of his career to that point, with a walk rate of 10.3% compared to a strikeout rate of 16.4%. His on-base percentage climbed to .350 as a result, his highest mark since rookie ball. He also stole 30 bases in just 78 games. He still wasn’t looking like a future stud, but his production was starting to open some eyes.
In February 2013, Almonte was shipped to Seattle in exchange for reliever Shawn Kelley in what seemed, at the time, to be a relatively insignificant transaction. In the Mariners’ system, Almonte showed continued development in his ability to coax free passes, as his walk rate surged to 13.0% in 516 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, and he also stole 26 bases.
Even more promising was his new-found ability to hit the ball out of the park. Since his rookie-league debut in 2007, Almonte had hit 24 homers over six professional seasons. In 2013, he hit 15 of them. His .182 isolated power was the best of his career by a wide margin. Interestingly, Almonte’s batted-ball profile was right in line with his career averages, as his line-drive, ground-ball and fly-ball rates were all within 1.5% of his career minor-league rates. He was simply making harder contact, and on a consistent basis.
Almonte’s performance earned him a call-up to the majors in late August, and he played pretty well for a guy getting his first taste of major-league action, finishing with a .264/.313/.403 line in a small 82-PA sample. Heading into Spring Training, the 24-year-old Almonte is expected to serve as the Mariners’ fourth outfielder in 2014.
To start, let’s look at how he profiles as a hitter. A switch-hitter, Almonte’s home-run power comes from the left side of the plate. Since his return to health (and sobriety) in 2011, 20 of his 22 minor-league homers came against righties, as did both of his long balls in the majors last year. From the left side, Almonte’s quick, compact swing enables the barrel of the bat to get around quickly on inside pitches, providing him with ample power to pull the ball out to right field:
From the right side, the toe tap Almonte shows from the left side is often exaggerated into a full leg kick:
In this particular example, it still worked out because Danny Duffy threw him a meatball on 2-0, but that awkward hitch in Almonte’s leg kick from the right side slows down the entire swing process, likely making it more difficult for him to produce straight-pull power. Using the same three-year minor-league sample cited earlier (2011-2013), Almonte’s .251/.342/.368 line in 367 PA from the right side of the plate is clearly inferior to his .288/.362/.428 slash from the left side in 1,126 PA, though not to a troubling extreme. For fantasy purposes, however, it’s probably a good idea to sit him against lefties until he proves he can produce from the right side at the major-league level.
In short, Almonte possesses good discipline from both sides of the plate, a surprising amount of pop from the left side, and plenty of speed to steal bases in the majors. If you believe those skills are legitimate, as I do, the main question comes down to whether he’ll get enough playing time to be relevant in AL-only fantasy leagues. According to the mixed-league consensus outfield rankings right here on RotoGraphs, the answer is “no.” He came in 103rd overall, with Eno being the only one to show him any love, ranking him 76th.
Obviously, seeing as I’ve taken the time to write this much about him, I disagree. Franklin Gutierrez is already out for the year. Logan Morrison has had two surgeries on his right knee in the last 2 1/2 years, and Corey Hart missed all of last season after major surgeries on both knees. Even if they’re both healthy (which is a big if) and splitting time between right field and designated hitter, both Morrison and Hart will require regular days off.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said recently that noodle-armed Dustin Ackley will move to left field this year, leaving Almonte as the only player likely to make the opening-day roster to back up Michael Saunders in center. Furthermore, Ackley’s weighted offense was 25% below league-average in 2012 and 16% below league-average last year; that bat doesn’t profile as an everyday corner outfielder. I see plenty of ways to get Almonte at-bats, even with everyone healthy, and it’s a group with pretty significant health risks.
If he gets somewhere between 400-450 PA, Almonte is fully capable of providing double-digit steals and 8-10 homers, while his on-base skills should give him regular opportunities to score runs. I think that’s absolutely worth a dollar or two at the back end of an AL-only auction, but I seem to be in the minority. He is owned in 0% of leagues on both ESPN and Yahoo, and just 2% of CBS leagues. He has the upside to provide solid value off the bench in AL-only leagues, and in the vast majority of leagues, you’ll be able to get him for next to nothing.
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