Yesterday a young man made his first major league start, and he wasted no time in letting the Yankees Universe know who he is. Up until then, however, not much was known about him by the average fan. Is he another Shelley Duncan or Shane Spencer? Is he the next Mike Trout? There is still not much information out there on Zoilo, so here’s some good info on the guy they call “Zee.”
Throws: Right handed
Bats: Switch hitter
Best tool: Power
In 2006, the Yankees signed then 17 year old Zoilo Almonte out of the Dominican Republic for an unknown and likely insignificant amount. They saw a young kid with plenty of raw tools and the potential to become a solid major leaguer. Since then he has slowly climbed the minor league ladder, producing better stats each year as he grows more and more mature.
From 2006-2008, Zoilo spent his time in the DSL and the GCL with mixed results. His OBP hovered around .300 and he averaged about five home runs per year and three stolen bases. At this point he was not considered much of a prospect, but was still valued as a player who had excellent speed and could hit from both sides of the plate.
Then in 2009 at the age of 20 he had something of a breakout season for Staten Island. He hit .274/.355/.440 with seven home runs and 15 stolen bases. Given that he was just 20, it was time to start taking Zoilo seriously again. The following year he split time between Charleston and Tampa, and began to show a trend. He started off slow and then by midseason he was raking so hard that the Yankees moved him up to High-A Tampa. He proceeded to struggle with an adjustment period, but finished the season at a respectable .269/.331/.424 and 13 home runs with 15 SB.
Next in 2011, Zoilo showed a similar pattern. He started off slow only to eventually destroy the ball in Tampa. He was called up to Trenton, where he battled and became familiar with the competition for about 50 games. He finished the season at .276/.345/.459/.803, again improving on his statistics from the previous season. He had 15 homers and 18 SB.
In 2012 Zoilo had arguably his best season yet. He hit .277/.322/.487/.808 with 21 home runs and 15 SB. He followed that up in 2013 by breaking his trend and started the season hot. He was impressive during Spring Training and proceeded to hit .297/.369/.421 with six home runs for the first half of the season. This earned him a promotion and a chance to prove that he belongs at the major league level.
In case you missed it, Zoilo Almonte has gone 4-for-5 with a homerun and three singles since he was called up. He provided a big spark in the game yesterday and could be a major factor going forward. At the same time we need not look further than David Adams for a cautionary tale about not getting too excited from an extremely small sample size. That said, Zoilo Almonte is not Shelley Duncan. He has an actual future with the Yankees and could become a part of their “rebuilding” process (I put rebuilding in quotes because the Yankees idea of rebuilding is being 3.5 games out of first midway through the season).
Interestingly enough, Zoilo does own a split and is known to be better as a lefty than a righty. This is normal for young switch hitters though because they just haven’t faced a lot of lefties at this point in their career.
Here is what the scouts have to say about Zoilo:
Zoilo’s best quality is his above average power and speed. He hit 21 home runs last season and has been particularly successful from the left side. This is not one of those skills that is hidden behind the numbers. He has power and he has proven it over time. His left handed swing has been compared to Robinson Cano‘s, although that could just be because they are both Dominican and people are looking to make comparisons. He also has above average speed which has actually shown up on the basepaths in recent years. In the past he has had a tendency to lose focus, especially early on in games and when the game is not close. This lead to some baserunning and fielding mistakes. He seems to have gotten those issues under wraps for the time being.
One of the things I like best about Almonte is that multiple sources have commended him on his clutch hitting. He hits well late in games, in close games, and with runners in scoring position. This is an x-factor which many people, especially statisticians, will argue does not exist, however it should not be discounted. There’s proof in the pudding as Zoilo came up big for the Yankees yesterday.
Zoilo has often been criticized for his defense, and it mainly stems from the errors he made in Spring Training last season. The truth is that he is a solid defender with good range and an excellent arm. He could be a plus defender at one of the corner outfield spots.
Most feel that Zoilo Almonte projects as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but I think he can be more than that. With the power he shows from the left side and his ability to hit for average as a switch hitter, he has the potential to really surprise people and become an above average starter with borderline all-star potential.
While I would fall short of saying Zoilo Almonte is a future star for the Yankees, he does have the potential to be a very useful player and save the Yankees some money in the coming years. He is also young, at 24 years old (was 23 at the start of the season), and has plenty of time to improve his game. There are a lot of good reasons to suspect he is only going to get better with age, including the fact that switch hitters often take longer to reach their prime. His ceiling, while not immense, is pretty damn good and he could be a revelation for the Yankees this year and next.
I have followed Zoilo’s career closely since he arrived in the United States. I wrote about him last year as a possible replacement for Nick Swisher, and it turns out that is becoming a reality. He has earned his chance to play in the major leagues, and I am looking forward to what will hopefully be a long and successful career.