Why the Mariners might be forcing the Abraham Almonte leadoff situation

Making Abraham Almonte the opening day center fielder is a huge leap of faith in his ability. But he doesn't need to see more at-bats than anyone else, and Lloyd McClendon may be forcing him into a role he's ill-prepared for.

It doesn't make sense. I've ran it over dozens of times in my head, trying to figure out why the Mariners continue to run out Abraham Almonte in the leadoff spot all spring. He hasn't just hit there a few times, he's been hitting there on a regular basis -- nearly every game he's played. At this stage of spring training, with just a week left, this is when managers usually start to turn in lineup cards that represent something close to regular season games.

Today's isn't that different. Brad Miller is hitting second, Robinson Cano is hitting third, Kyle Seager is in the cleanup spot, Dustin Ackley is 7th, Michael Saunders is hitting 8th, and Mike Zunino is 9th. Other than Stefen Romero and Logan Morrison playing in 5/6, this isn't a lineup that's going to look dramatically different from opening day. Except, I hope, for Abraham Almonte.

I get why Lloyd McClendon might be tantalized by the idea of having Almonte lead games off. He fits all of the leadoff hitter archetypes -- fast, aggressive, and he's demonstrated a good ability to get on base in the minors. He's been affectionately referred to as Kirby Puckett Jr. due to his short, stocky frame and speed. Puckett spent most of his career hitting 3rd, and really wasn't a huge burner on the basepaths, at least not as his career progressed. He was a terrible base stealer. Kirby Puckett was an amazing hitter who also happened to be short and stocky, play the same position, and have the same skin color as Abraham Almonte. It's a lazy comparison. Almonte isn't a hitter yet, let alone Kirby Puckett. He isn't anything yet, really.

This isn't a knock on Almonte, who can easily be a productive player without being constantly compared to a Hall of Famer, which needs to stop.  I love watching Almonte play, I love the idea that he could contribute two or three wins of value with solid defense (better suited for the corners), and you can't help but get fired up when you see his hustle and energy on the basepaths. He's an igniter. But he's being penciled into the first spot in the lineup where he'll see more at-bats than anyone else. Almonte has seen less major league pitches than anybody else projected to be on the Mariners, short of Stefen Romero. This doesn't seem right.

There's two possible scenarios here, and the traditional, pessimistic one is what I fear. These lineups cards are representative of what McClendon is planning on rolling out on opening day. Almonte is an exciting player with a completely unknown future. Nobody really knows exactly what kind of offensive skillset he'll bring to the table when he finally gets some sustained exposure to big league pitching, but I do know that it probably isn't good enough to merit getting more at-bats than anyone else on the roster. I'm of the school of theory that the first hitter in the order simply needs to be one of the best hitters you have -- he'll get more opportunities than anyone else, and he's only guaranteed to lead off once a game. It's a spot I believe should go to Brad Miller, or perhaps a revamped Dustin Ackley. Not Abraham Almonte. Not yet, at least.

Abraham Almonte needs to earn his spot at the top of the lineup, and he hasn't even come close to doing it. Not only does he possess a great deal of inexperience, but he is having a miserable spring. Not that his spring is indicative of his future offensive contributions when it matters -- it isn't -- but he certainly isn't proving to anyone that he deserves more opportunities than Brad Miller when the season begins.

The second scenario is the one that I hope is true, and that's just that the Mariners want to see more of Almonte than anybody else. After all, Lloyd McClendon doesn't have a true center fielder, and Almonte is a new and relatively unknown option to man the position. McClendon knows what he has with Michael Saunders a whole lot more than he does with Almonte, so a natural conclusion would be to project that this spring has been a proving ground of sorts for Almonte.

If that's the case, then Almonte will see himself near the bottom of the order when the year begins. But as more and more lineup cards are submitted with his name at the top, I fear Lloyd McClendon is close to making his first notable mistake of the year. Almonte may prove in time that he is a viable candidate to see a ton of at-bats, but we're not at that point yet. Handing Almonte the starting center field job is a fairly massive leap in faith on its own, and there shouldn't be any rush into forcing him into a role he might not deserve.

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