|Rookie Zoilo Almonte Has Added Much-Needed Energy to the Yankees Sagging Lineup|
Much like Puig, many within the Yankees organization felt that Almonte performed well enough during spring training to break camp with the big club. Instead, general manager Brian Cashman took on Vernon Wells from the Angels, and Almonte was sent packing to Triple-A Scranton. With the Yankees losing both outfielder Curtis Granderson and first baseman Mark Teixeira a second time to injury, paired with the lackluster performances of the aforementioned Wells and Ichiro Suzuki over the past few weeks, Cashman determined something drastic was in order to re-energize a Yankees' lineup that has been averaging right at 2.8 runs per game over the past two weeks. Fortunately for New York, their pitching has been just good enough to keep the team competitive, only a handful of games back of division-leading Boston.
Almonte isn't considered a can't miss prospect by any means, nor was he made an instant cult figure upon his arrival in the Bronx. He was brought in to fill a void in the outfield. What he displayed over the weekend during the Yankees' series against division rival Tampa, has launched "Zoilo-mania." Through his first seven games with the Yankees, Almonte is hitting an eye-popping .625. He also launched his first major league home run, swatted a pair of doubles, scored a pair of runs, and has driven in four. Not bad for a fill-in who isn't really considered a part of the Yankees' outfield future.
Being the Yankees fan that I am, I was less than thrilled that Almonte was sent packing at the end of the spring, and was even less impressed with the idea of Vernon Wells coming to the Bronx. Give Wells credit, he played extremely well during the first few weeks of the season. However, he has come crashing back down to Earth without as much as a whimper. Wells did hit a pinch-hit double that gave the Yankees the lead for good Saturday afternoon, but his role should be where it is: as a reserve outfielder at best. What is going to be interesting very soon, will be if Almonte continues to rake, and Ichiro doesn't, what do the Yankees do with Ichiro once Granderson finally returns from a broken knuckle?
The Yankees have to come to grips with the idea that Granderson is not going to hit 40 home runs this year. I would highly doubt he even approaches the 12-15 home run mark, even if he does come back soon. As for Mr. Suzuki, I'll be the first to admit that he has had a phenomenal career. The problem is, it can't continue in New York. He's in the first of a two-year deal, and if the Yankees really believed in Almonte's ability, they would be actively shopping both Granderson and Suzuki to teams in dire need of power and a fading star who can put butts in the buckets. Ichiro would be a great fit out in San Francisco given the long term injury to Angel Pagan. With the strong Asian population in the Bay area, it may just rejuvenate Ichiro again as his trade to the Bronx did last summer. A deal such as that would open the lineup to not only get younger and cheaper, but to find out if Zoilo Almonte could be a mainstay in the Yankees' outfield for the foreseeable future.
Prior to his call-up, Almonte only had six home runs while driving in 36. He was hitting .297 in his first season at Triple-A, a year after blasting 21 bombs while driving in 70 in only 106 games at Double-A Trenton. He's 24 years old, so there are bound to be some growing pains. While he and Puig have both been lightning rods for their respective clubs, there is much less pressure on Almonte to keep up the pace. We've heard Brian Cashman state that his goal is to reduce payroll and to build a solid farm system so that the Yankees aren't forced to sign high dollar free agents who are more than likely past their prime. The Almonte experience should be a great test of Cashman's core beliefs.
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