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Almonte Adds Flexibility in the Field and Punch at the Plate for the Tribe

Almonte Adds Flexibility in the Field and Punch at the Plate for the Tribe

| On 26, Nov 2016

After receiving some intriguing contributions from Abraham Almonte after they acquired him at the trade deadline in 2015, the Cleveland Indians looked willing to slot the otherwise unproven switch-hitter into their center field vacancy for the coming season.

But before the spring training calendar could even flip to March, Almonte was gone, suspended for 80 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for Boldenone, a substance banned through the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

The Indians outfield was already without All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley, who was still in the process of recovering from his shoulder injury of the previous September. By the end of the spring camp, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall was shelved too, after dealing with a left wrist impingement and right forearm tightness that left him marred in a lengthy camp hitting slump.

Instead of being part of a solution, Almonte became a bigger part of the problem.

Chisenhall and Brantley both returned, although the latter’s visit was just eleven games in length before being shut down for the season. The Indians had to use a variety of options to plug all of the outfield holes, including free agent additions Rajai Davis and Marlon Byrd, rookie Tyler Naquin, utility man Jose Ramirez playing a new position in left field, and Collin Cowgill. Regular playing time seemed to be positive for several members of that bunch, but Cowgill proved ineffective and found himself back at Triple-A Columbus, while Byrd would disappear at the beginning of June after his own PED suspension cost him what will realistically amount to the rest of his professional baseball career.

Almonte was productive in his return. But his suspension would lead to a postseason absence for the playoff bound Indians, who picked up not one, but two different players to help plug the glaring holes in the outfield. Brandon Guyer, a right-handed hitting platoon outfielder, came over at the trade deadline from Tampa, while former friend of the feather Coco Crisp returned home to Cleveland in a waiver deadline trade from Oakland. The switch-hitting veteran Crisp would ultimately fill the role that Almonte might have had in the lineup down the stretch in September and on into the playoffs, although he would do so with a notable dropoff in defensive prowess at the age of 36.

Almonte did not show the same kind of pop that he had in his first season with the Indians in 2015, but he did showcase an ability to get on base and into scoring position in a hurry. Despite appearing in just 67 games, he accumulated 20 doubles in 194 plate appearances (one per every 9.7 trips to the plate). Had he registered a number of plate appearances similar to his other outfield platoon mates, i.e. Naquin or Chisenhall, he could have been right at the top of the Indians’ leaderboard in two-baggers.

In fact, Almonte was one of the best on the team in regards to finding himself standing in scoring position after a hit. Twenty-two of his 48 hits for the year were extra base hits, or 45.8% of his hit total. Only Yan Gomes (50.0%) had a higher percentage of extra base hits among Indians position players. Almonte averaged 8.82 plate appearances per extra base hit, the best mark on the team by a position player. Naquin was second at 9.86, followed by Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana at 10.12 and Ramirez at 10.30.

Almonte’s average of 9.70 plate appearances per double knocked was again far and away the top mark among position players on the team. Ramirez, who led the club (and was second in the league) with his 46 doubles, was the next highest on the team at 13.43 plate appearances per two-base hit.

While his mistakes cost him 80 games and put the club in a bind in regards to roster construction and production, Almonte did make the most of the time that he could step up to the plate. He slashed .264/.294/.401 for the season with the 20 doubles, one triple, one homer, 22 runs batted in, 24 runs scored, and was a perfect 8-for-8 stealing bases. His on-base percentage struggled as his aggressive approach at the plate led to just eight walks on the year.

When the Indians acquired Almonte from the Padres for Marc Rzepczynski at the midway point of the 2015 season, he had been used sparingly throughout the first two-plus seasons of his big league career in Seattle and San Diego. Cleveland gave him a long, solid look at the center field position and Almonte, who had spent the majority of his time in the Majors in center, looked the part by completing an error-free season in 481 1/3 innings combined between San Diego and Cleveland. With Davis and Naquin established in center upon his return to the lineup on July 3 of this past season, Almonte found himself relegated to the corner outfield spots but held his own in his first significant looks at each position. He made an error at each spot, but made five assists from right field and another from left while posting positive marks in defensive runs saved.

The half-season of playing time that Almonte was able to give the Indians in 2016 proved that he could provide the club with just the kind of flexibility that the Indians and manager Terry Francona prefer of their bench players.

Looking ahead, the Indians continue to have question marks in their outfield. After struggling for a year to come back from his shoulder injury, there could be an element of concern among some about how Brantley will look if and when he is ready to resume play in left field. Davis has hit free agency and while he added a spark to the lineup with his speed on the base paths (an American League leading 43 stolen bases in 49 attempts), the eleven-year man turned 36 during the postseason. Naquin, Guyer, and Chisenhall each have their strengths, and their very exploitable splits.

The switch-hitting and versatile Almonte could be exactly what the Indians need in a platoon option off of the bench to keep the matchups in their favor.

Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images