Run by Josh Norris, The Trentonian's Thunder beat writer, this blog will cover the team, as well as the Eastern League and Minor League Baseball as a whole.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Could Zoilo return to Trenton? Plus an updated roster guess
The Thunder's outfield this season will feature three of the Yankees' top prospects. That much is a certainty. The identity of those prospects is a different story altogether.
When Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores closed the season with the Thunder, it seemed a good bet that they'd return to flank Slade Heathcott in Trenton once April rolled around. Flores should still be here, but Austin might open the season in High-A.
That's because Zoilo Almonte is looking more and more likely to start the season (and probably spend the first half) back in right field in Trenton.
After swatting 23 doubles and 21 homers last season, the obvious question is: Why? It's all about the on-base percentage, and the lack of walks contained within. In 642 Double-A plate appearances, Almonte has been unintentionally walked just 37 times. That works out to a 5.1-percent clip, or one walk per 17 or so plate appearances.
Those numbers included walk-free stretches of 11 games (May 29-June 12 -- 50 plate appearances) and 19 games (July 18-Aug. 9 -- 79 plate appearances).
Almonte also fanned 22.7 percent of the time, third worst on the team, behind Cody Johnson (35.6 percent) and Luke Murton (22.8 percent)
In other words, his plate discipline could use some more work. The at-bat that perhaps most exemplified his problems came on Aug. 16 at Reading, in the middle of a banner day for both Almonte and the Thunder.
Trenton thrashed Reading starter Brody Colvin that afternoon for 11 runs in just more than five innings. Almonte was right in the middle of that carnage, tagging Colvin for two homers. In the midst of all that, however, he put together this ghastly strikeout, at a time when Colvin was begging for any out he could find.
If you're counting, that's three pitches -- two breaking balls and a heater -- none in the strike zone, for three swings and misses. That's a good way to make a bad pitcher (or a decent pitcher having a bad day) look very good.
Make no mistake, pitchers at Triple-A and above will exploit that aggressiveness to no end.
There is precedent for the Yankees to hold back a young player after a decent season that, on the surface, seems worthy of promotion. Look no further than Melky Mesa last year.
In 2011, Mesa spent all season with the Thunder and put forth a .251/.329/.404 line with 24 doubles and nine longballs in 105 games. He also walked just 8.1 percent of the time and fanned at a nearly 30-percent clip.
Those numbers earned him a trip back to Trenton to open 2012. His walk rate went down a tick, but he cut his strikeouts by almost 10 percent and in August earned a promotion to Triple-A. This all happened during his age-25 season. Almonte won't turn 24 until June of this year, so he still has plenty of time to polish the rough edges of his game, which also include his oftentimes suspect defense.
Signings by the Yankees over the last few weeks also seem to offer clues to Almonte's future. In recent days they've added Matt Diaz, Thomas Neal, Russ Canzler and Dan Johnson to a Triple-A picture that already included Ronnier Mustelier and Mesa.
Even if you figure that one of Neal, Diaz or Canzler could make the big club, that still leaves five players for three outfield slots and a designated hitter (likely Johnson). It also doesn't leave much room for Almonte with the RailRiders.
With all that in mind, it seems pretty likely, at least from where I'm sitting, that fans at Arm & Hammer Park will get a third dose of Zoilo Almonte this season.
UPDATED ROSTER PREDICTION
1. J.R. Murphy - C 2. Jeff Farnham - C 3. Kyle Roller - 1B 4. Jose Pirela - 2B 5. Reegie Corona - SS 6. Kevin Mahoney - 3B 7. Slade Heathcott - CF 8. Ramon Flores - LF 9. Zoilo Almonte - RF 10. Rob Segedin - OF 11. Cody Johnson - DH 12. Jose Mojica - IF 13. Shane Greene - SP 14. Nik Turley - SP 15. Mikey O'Brien - SP 16. Zach Nuding - SP 17. Jose Ramirez - SP 18. Dan Burawa - RP 19. Tommy Kahnle - RP 20. Branden Pinder - RP 21. Kramer Sneed - RP 22. Craig Heyer - RP 23. Graham Stoneburner - RP 24. Cory Arbiso - RP 25. Jeremy Bleich - RP
Changes from last time: Tyler Austin is bumped out by the return of Zoilo Almonte. If Almonte, Flores and Heathcott are going to be here, then Austin is far better served by returning to Tampa to get regular at-bats. Even though he cleaned up in his time in High-A, there's no harm in sending back a kid who won't turn 22 until September.
Same idea with Adonis Garcia. Flores, Heathcott and Almonte (or Austin, if I'm wrong on the above theory) are sure bets to play every day. That would make Garcia no more than a fourth outfielder here. If the Yankees want him to get regular at-bats, then Tampa (especially if Mason Williams starts the year on the DL) will be the place to do it.
The Yankees signed Reegie Corona, who would make a lot of sense as the Thunder's everyday shortstop, especially considering that Mojica, even though he hit just .225/.265/.305 with High-A, was far and away the best in-house option. If Corona is here, then Jose Toussen, whom I had penciled into the utility infielder's role, would head back to the Florida State League.
Rigoberto Arrebato and Manny Barreda are also pushed back to High-A by the presence of Jeremy Bleich, who should see his first action at the upper levels since tearing his labrum in 2010. Another case of simply no room at the inn. That said, there are a few pitchers who seem to be candidates for release toward the end of spring. If that happens, then someone like Barreda could get the bump up.