Every organization has at least one player that is likely ready for the major leagues in their system, but they have no place to put them. It’s not always the case that the team wants to play the youngsters either. In the case of an organization like the Tampa Bay Rays for example, Hak-Ju Lee has shown signs that he’s likely ready for a shot in the big leagues in 2013. Chances are he’ll continue to wait going into 2013, because the Rays have many experienced major league options and don’t need to rush Lee into the fold until he’s truly ready.
Which brings me to this week’s organization, the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have a very interesting system as it presently stands, one that has seen the effects of a culture change in New York. Prior to recent history, the Yankees have been in a perpetual “WIN RIGHT NOW” mode, and haven’t put the same stock in their farm system as… say the Tampa Bay Rays. That said, GM Brian Cashman has taken great strides to develop the Yankees into more than just a bank, and a team that aims to infuse their major league roster with minor league talent more than in recent years. Although the roster doesn’t reflect this much at present, there is talent in the lower levels in Yankee-ville.
A lot of the elite talent is a few years away, but there is one position player in particular who may fit the description of “blocked” in the immediate future. Zoilo Almonte is that player in their organization, an outfielder who has displayed he’s ready for an opportunity, but is highly unlikely to see one in 2013, barring injuries of course.
The Yankees project to begin 2013 with an outfield of Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardiner, with no lock as a fourth outfielder signed as of yet. Almonte could certainly fill that void for the big league club, as he’s played all three outfield positions, but the Yankees likely prefer to have him playing full time, likely leaving him beginning the year in AAA.
Originally signing with the organization at 17 years old in 2006, the young Dominican outfielder obviously took a few years to work his way up in the system. Almonte arrived at AA with the Trenton Thunder for the 2nd half of 2011, then spent all of 2012 in the Eastern League. Although Almonte missed time dealing with a hamstring issue, he still produced a .277/.322/.487 over 106 games and 419 AB’s. What was also encouraging was his continued power development, as he delivered 21 HR’s, and 77 RBI, and added 15 stolen bases to boot. An Eastern League All-Star, he’s also a switch hitter, which adds to his value and has drawn loose comparisons to a Nick Swisher style of play in New York baseball circles.
The 6’0, 205 lb outfielder might not be a “can’t miss” prospect, but his development is certainly something to track in New York. Yankee manager Joe Girardi was certainly impressed with him during camp in March of 2012, and told reporters, “Everything you’d ask a player to do, he’s done. This is a young man that really kind of burst on to the scene a bit. He showed up on the radar, we may really have something”.
He has likely hit his way out of AA Trenton, so it would seem he’ll work his way to AAA at worst in 2013. It certainly can’t be ruled out that Almonte gets a shot in the big leagues in 2013 though either. Brian Cashman has shown that he is serious about sticking within payroll parameters, which could leave the young outfielder an injury or two away from getting the audition every young ballplayer dreams of. What happens next for Almonte may very well be in the hands (and legs) of Brett Gardiner, and Ichiro Sukuki, which may see him in New York, sooner than later.