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Abraham Almonte could solve Mariners centerfield dilemma

The Mariners went into this offseason clearly needing to improve the Major League roster however they possibly could, with the most glaring hole existing in the outfield. Centerfield became a hole of particular interest to the Lookout Landing community due to the amount of available players that could fill that spot on the Mariners roster. No one was surprised when the team was immediately linked to Jacoby Ellsbury, because he’s a fantastic player and the narrative of "returning home" was too easy for most people to pass up. Players like Peter Bourjos and Adam Eaton were made available on the trade block. All of these players ended up on different clubs, and the Mariners seemingly have a spot left in center to figure out what to do with. They may already have their answer on the 40-man roster.

Abraham Almonte caught my interest about a month into the 2013 season and never let go of it. He was the return for Shawn Kelley from the Yankees, a sturdy yet speedy centerfielder who looked to be headed towards a career as a 4th outfielder or AAAA player at best. Something must have clicked after the trade, however, as Almonte would go on to destroy AA Jackson and AAA Tacoma before receiving his cup of coffee with the Mariners at the end of the season. Let’s take a look at him as a potential candidate for the Mariners starting centerfielder job.

Passing the Eye Test

Don’t worry, the statistical analysis is coming after this. Eye tests are horrible for quantitative analysis, but they work well enough for simple qualitative analysis and that’s good enough for this brief section. First off are a couple Tweets from Mike Curto. I’ve found Curto’s thoughts on players to be pretty reliable, so naturally Tweets like these caught my eye:

You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.

Curto seems to think Almonte looks the part of being something more than a 4th outfielder, and although the game threads were sparse towards the end of the season a lot of us seemed to as well. In the limited amount of time we got to see Abe in action he showcased legitimate power, speed, range, and arm strength. For a player with almost no prospect stock behind him Almonte possesses a fair number of Major League quality tools. Injury and crippling alcoholism may have had something to do with that, but the lack of any sort of hype for Almonte as a prospect is confusing. The only hype of any kind you'll find on him came after his breakout 2013. Credit to Mariners scout Bill Masse for noticing Abe and recommending that the Mariners try to land him.

Almonte’s 2013 Season

Almonte had the best season of his career by a wide margin in 2013. After roughly average play in A and AA ball for the Yankees, Abe came to the Mariners and proceeded play out of his mind in AA and AAA before getting the call up to the Majors, where he held his own for the final month of the season in limited playtime.

Player

G

PA

Triple Slash

BB%

K%

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Almonte, AA

29

120

.255/.367/.451

15.0%

23.3%

.196

.372

137

Almonte, AAA

94

396

.314/.403/.491

12.4%

16.7%

.178

.398

138

Almonte, MLB

25

82

.264/.313/.403

7.3%

25.6%

.139

.312

96

Average, MLB

/

/

.253/.318/.396

7.9%

19.9%

.143

.314

100


There’s only so much we can take away from the small sample sizes at each level, but the overall picture of Almonte’s 2013 is a promising one. His average offensive output from previous years jumped into the world beater category after his trade to Seattle, and he maintained a roughly league average level of performance after his call up (to a thoroughly demoralized and defeated roster) while dealing with the adjustments all rookies not named Mike Trout have to go through. At 24 years old Abraham Almonte seems to have had a breakout year, so it’s not as if this is an anomaly year for a career AAAA player at 29 years old. He’s at the age where there’s reason to believe this growth as a player isn’t just a flash in the pan.

So if Almonte’s minor league success in 2013 at plate is going to translate to the Major League level going forward, what does he need to address? This is where I find looking at plate discipline and batted ball stats come in handy. Again, small sample size and whatnot.

Player

Swing%

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Contact%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Almonte, MLB

42.1%

22.8%

60.7%

79.7%

38.2%

94.7%

Average, MLB

45.9%

29.7%

62.7%

79.4%

63.2%

87.3%

Note: Swing% and Contact% are 41% and 81%, respectively, for AAA Tacoma. (via StatCorner)

Pitch discipline stats are hard to find for anything below the Major League level, but the similarities between Almonte’s AAA and MLB Swing% and Contact% give me a bit more confidence in drawing some sort of conclusion from his MLB plate discipline. It looks like Almonte swings slightly less than league average while managing to make above average contact on pitches inside the zone and below average contact on pitches outside the zone. You’d obviously like to see that O-Contact% rise a bit, but his O-Swing% being 7% below average somewhat makes up for that. The only thing I’d really stress on him improving is his Z-Swing%, mainly as a means of lowering his K%.

Player

GB%

FB%

LD%

Almonte, MLB

50.0%

30.4%

19.6%

Average, MLB

44.0%

36.0%

20.0%

(via FanGraphs)

And here’s the big area for Almonte to improve upon. Someone with as much pop in his bat as he does shouldn’t be hitting a ground ball half of the time he makes contact. He should be aiming for more line drives and fly balls, which produce 1.26 and 0.13 runs per out, respectively. Ground balls produce a paltry 0.05 runs per out in comparison. It’s easier said than done, but reducing his GB% should help increase Almonte’s offensive output at the Major League level.

Concerns Going Forwarrd

Of course, Abe furthering his 2013 success at the Major League level in 2014 and beyond isn’t guaranteed. There are a couple of limiting factors in his performance from last season that would need to be addressed in order to do so. First off, Almonte will probably need to be platooned throughout his career. His 2013 splits (which include both Major and Minor League splits) fell in line with his career splits:

Split

G

PA

Triple Slash

BB%

K%

vs RHP as LHB

129

442

.320/.402/.518

11.8%

17.9%

Vs LHP as RHB

71

156

.219/.327/.328

13.4%

23.1%

Note: wOBA and wRC+ omitted due to their lack of availability for Majors+Minors splits

Like nearly everyone else on this roster Almonte can smack around RHP, but fails to do anything against LHP because that’s just how things are now. It looks like success from Abe at the Major League level, or any level for that matter, is going to come exclusively from the left side of the plate barring some awesomely insane turnaround from the right side. Luckily the vast amounts of pitchers are righties and he has a decent platoon partner on the roster already. More on that later.

The other concern that may have jumped out at you was his K% at AA and MLB, the percentage breaking 20% for both of these stops. While definitely something to keep an eye on going forward, this is less of a concern than it may initially appear to be based on Almonte’s previous history of K% adjustments and small sample size weirdness. Observe:

Level

G

PA

K%

A, Year 1

115

495

20.4%

A, Year 2

115

484

16.7%

A+, Year 1

17

70

25.7%

A+, Year 2

130

594

16.3%

AA, Year 1

78

359

16.4%

AA, Year 2

29

120

23.3%

AAA, Year 1

94

396

16.7%

MLB, Year 1

25

82

25.6%


As you can see, outside of his first year in A ball, Almonte has seen his K% settle out between 16% and 17% when given an appropriate number of PA to make the proper adjustment, and this has held true throughout A, A+, AA, and AAA ball. I imagine this number is somewhere between 200 and 300 PA. His second year in AA, with Jackson, shows a surprisingly high K%, but it also corresponded with a higher BB% and a wRC+ of 137. Given that it also happened under that 200 to 300 PA threshold there’s probably a bit of smallish sample size weirdness going on at his Jackson stop as well. It also shouldn't be overlooked that he went on to have more than triple the PA at AAA Tacoma than he did in AA Jackson, and he posted a 16.3% K% there. Given the appropriate amount of time to make the necessary adjustments at the plate I would expect that 25.6% MLB K% to lower to Almonte’s career norm.

The Potential Value of Almonte

Carson Cistulli included Almonte in a post about Steamer Major League Equivalents (MLEs) over on FanGraphs back in October. Here’s the relevant bit:

Name: Abraham Almonte, 24, OF
Organization: Seattle Level: Triple-A (Pacific Coast)
MLE: 396 PA, .289/.361/.429 (.329 BABIP), +11 Off*, -2 Def*, 3.4 WAR550*
Notes: Almonte might very well end up belonging to that class of outfielders who has neither the speed native to center fielders nor the power typically attendant to corner outfielders, but one who simultaneously provides value to his club, nonetheless. He controlled the plate excellently at Triple-A Tacoma, recording walk and strikeout rates there of 12.4% and 16.7%, respectively. He did that less excellently in 82 late-season plate appearances with the Mariners (7.3% BB, 25.6% K), although still managed a roughly league-average batting line over that stretch.

So if Almonte can at least replicate his AA and AAA performances from 2013 to some extent then we’re probably looking at a 4 WAR ceiling centerfielder. For what it’s worth, Oliver likes Almonte for 2.5 fWAR in 2013 as well, and that’s with a projected 93 wRC+. Let’s fudge it a bit and project Abe for somewhere between 2 to 4 wins going forward, whichever extreme of that spectrum he ends closer to being decided by his adjustments at the plate.

I don’t think that’s where most of the potential value that Almonte could provide comes from, though. No, most of the potential value that a 2 to 4 win Almonte manning centerfield for the majority of games next season comes from the players he would be keeping out of the outfield. Assuming the Mariners manage to land one more every day outfielder before the start of the season, sticking Almonte in center against RHP would keep players such as Logan Morrison and Corey Hart out of the outfield outside of the direst circumstances. Against LHP things become a bit shakier, but if they swap out Abe for a bubble-wrapped Guti the rest of the outfield can be safely manned by Condor and whatever (hopefully RHB) every day outfielder they manage to acquire.

So there you have it. I think Abraham Almonte has the chance to be a close to every day impact player for the Mariners in 2014 and beyond. His range and arm in centerfield project him to be an above average defender, and the potential he brings with his bat and on the basepaths shouldn't be ignored. A 110 wRC+ centerfielder with above average defense isn’t something to overlook, and it’s hardly a stretch to think that Almonte could achieve that level of performance consistently. We’ve all wanted the front office to identify and acquire undervalued players who could contribute to the Mariners on a consistent basis, and they may have found one of them already in Almonte. Don’t be shocked if Abraham Almonte continues to perform well and we see him roaming centerfield for the Mariners next summer, because at this point I’ve spent over 2000 words trying to convince you that he has the talent, and the ability to utilize it, to do so.

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