Yankees brass 'excited' about Zoilo Almonte

02/24/2013 7:40 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Zoilo Almonte hit 21 home runs at Double-A Trenton in 2012, and already has one this spring.(AP)
Curtis Granderson suffered a fractured forearm after being hit by a pitch on Sunday, immediately fueling speculation as to who could replace “The Grandy Man” in the Yankees outfield while he spends the next 10 weeks on the sidelines.

The Yankees have several internal options in camp, but could it be Zoilo Almonte who becomes the next prospect to make the jump from Double-A to the Majors and ends up taking roll call with the Bleacher Creatures come April 1?

When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman addressed the media at George M. Steinbrenner Field prior to Sunday’s game – and Granderson’s injury – one of the players he discussed in depth was Almonte, whose two-run home run on Saturday opened the scoring in the Yankees’ 8-3 win over Atlanta.

Almonte got the starting nod in right field for the Yankees’ spring opener, and in addition to that home run, he made a great throw from to gun down Braves outfielder Reed Johnson as he attempted to go from first to third on a first-inning single by Freddie Freeman.

The 23-year-old Dominican spent all of last year at Double-A Trenton, hitting .277 with 21 homers and 70 RBIs in 106 games, and Cashman said that the team is “excited” about Almonte’s progress before giving him some high praise.

"We have future everyday right fielder scouting grades on him. I think you’re going to see a lot of young kids open some eyes this spring because we have the biggest camp we’ve ever had, but I think we have a lot of talent that I think will get exposed this spring,” Cashman said. “Position players…our biggest depth is down below, but Zoilo Almonte is one of those guys that we have future everyday right fielder scouting grades on. His throw yesterday, his home run to the opposite field, we’ve seen that.”

Almonte also got similar praise on Saturday from another front office member who has seen his fair share of great outfielders: special assistant to the GM Jim Hendry, who has been with the Yankees since January 2012 and spent 12 years in the personnel department with the Chicago Cubs prior to that.

“(Jim) was sitting next to me and he was like, ‘I’ve never seen this kid have a bad day yet.’ Not this spring, but since he’s been with us scouting our system,” Cashman said. “And he said that right before the home run.”

Cashman was then asked whether Almonte could beat out others like Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz to earn a fourth outfielder/bench role this season, and at the time, the GM stated he didn’t feel that would be beneficial to the team or Almonte’s development.

“You wouldn’t want a young buck to be sitting on the bench as a pinch hitter. That’s a different role altogether. That’s an experience that you have to learn,” Cashman said. “A number of these guys too, with their experience at the minor league level, we’re going to give them looks here but I think going into this, without question, a Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz – in theory – have a huge leg up on anybody else because of their major league experience and having to come off the bench.”

All things considered, Cashman’s words hinted that Almonte was ticketed to start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, likely playing in an outfield with fellow 40-man rosteree Melky Mesa, Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier, and one or maybe even two of the threesome of Rivera, Diaz, and Thomas Neal.

Continuing on about Almonte’s chances and the fourth outfielder role, Cashman said that “the job description is, we have three left-handed hitting outfielders, and we need a right-handed hitter that’s basically going to sit there and wait for a left-handed starter or wait for Joe to call him late in the game.”

That could still be the case, but with Granderson’s recovery timetable looking to keep him out for 30 games or so, there is a hole in the starting lineup. As they did in the wake of Brett Gardner’s injury in 2012, the Yankees will likely look internally to replace Curtis, and might be best served looking to replace him with someone who can provide the kind of power Granderson has of late.

As they once did with another Almonte – shortstop Erick, who filled in for Derek Jeter for six weeks when The Captain dislocated his shoulder on Opening Day 2003 – the Yankees may just throw Zoilo into the fire right away.

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