While there technically hasn’t been any definite confirmation, all signs point to rookie outfielder Abraham Almonte having the first Mariner plate appearance of the 2014 season. If this is the first you are hearing of this, or you haven’t paid much attention this spring, you may be excited. Normally, when a new, relatively unknown player is given a role such as this, it is because they did something unexpected, and played so well that they forced the team’s hand, and won the job.
I wish I could say that was the case for Almonte and the role as the M’s #1 hitter, but it just isn’t.
While Almonte was certainly an interesting guy to watch out for at the beginning of the spring, he did next to nothing to earn this new, important role. No matter what criteria you use to evaluate the situation, you would be hard pressed to really come up with sound reasoning for Almonte leading off, over the likes of Brad Miller especially.
Most of us can agree that Spring Training stats mean nothing. But when looking for an explanation as to why Almonte deserves this role, we must exhaust all possibilities. And in doing so, we see that Almonte posted a measly .178/.256/.301 slash line over the spring. We can even go further into spring-effectiveness, and take a more scout-like approach. The numbers don’t matter, but hitting the ball hard, having good plate discipline, etc. all apply during the spring. And while Almonte had a couple dingers, I didn’t see anything that I was particularly impressed with on the offensive side.
But what’s more is that he also hasn’t done anything in the past to justify the role. This isn’t a case like that of Kyle Seager, who also struggled this spring. Kyle has had two back-to-back 3+ WAR seasons, so there is great reason to put him somewhere in the middle of your lineup, regardless of what he does during Spring Training. Almonte doesn’t have that reputation.
If it weren’t for Corey Hart‘s knees, or lack thereof, and Logan Morrison‘s defense, or lack thereof, I’m not even sure Almonte would deserve a starting spot on this team, let alone the leadoff job. He hasn’t proven anything at this point in his career, and didn’t do virtually anything this spring, let alone enough to make people take notice.
The only possible reasons for this move are both pretty lame. One is that Lloyd McClendon values speed at the top of the order over everything else. He doesn’t care as much about having a productive guy at the top as he does having a guy who runs fast. This is a problem, because while speed at the top is always nice, it shouldn’t be your deciding factor. Your leadoff hitter should be your best on-base guy more often than not. If he also happens to be a gazelle, then that’s great. Party. Bonus.
But you can’t sacrifice the ability to get on base for speed. After all, if the guy struggles to even make it to first, how is he suppose to then steal second?
The next, equally as trivial reason is lineup balance. Lloyd has either said or hinted at on multiple occasions that he doesn’t want a string of lefties at the top of the order. And that’s all well and good, except for the fact that just because a player is a switch-hitter, doesn’t mean he is good from both sides of the plate.
And wouldn’t you know it, Almonte is one of those guys. Almonte has a minor league career .710 OPS against left handers/as a right handed hitter, compared to .790 from the left side of the dish. I think there is a very real chance that Brad Miller, and maybe even Dustin Ackley, end up hitting left-handers better than Almonte does. So assuming the reasoning behind wanting to avoid a L, L, L, top of the order is so left handed pitchers can’t take advantage, doesn’t the purpose kind of become null when the person you want to force in there can’t hit left handers either?
(The assumption that handedness automatically tells you who a hitter will or will not be effective against, when the actual data is readily available no less, never ceases to baffle me.)
It’s pretty easy to find holes in the coaching staff’s thought process regarding Almonte, and just as easy to pinpoint the potential ill-effects of making such a rash and forced decision.
The leadoff hitter sees more at-bats than any other batter, on account of them being up first. Does it really make sense to reward a completely unproven, and potentially ineffective player with more chances than anyone else? I personally see no real reason to expect a ton from Almonte offensively, at least to start. He was good in the minors last year, sure. But so were a ton of other people who will never even be given this chance, let alone be able to seize it.
To use a term I have seen from Lookout Landing, among other places, the whole situation just seems forced. It seems as though LMC wants so much for Abraham Almonte to serve as that right-handed, top of the order bat the M’s currently lack, that he is choosing to just ignore everything else, most of which suggests he is making a pretty big and obvious mistake.
It’s a mistake that can easily be fixed by shuffling things up if Almonte does indeed struggle, but it can also be prevented by just paying attention, and making what is clearly the more logical choice. What has Almonte done to earn this job? Why does LMC feel he is the man for the job, when Miller looks like an absolute animal, spring stats and otherwise?
Maybe Almonte is the man for the job. Maybe LMC has seen something that we haven’t that leads him to believe an Almonte, Miller, Cano 1-2-3 is the way to go.
Or maybe LMC is remaining willfully ignorant, and is blinded by his own hopes that Almonte is an everyday, leadoff center fielder who can hit left handed pitching and run really fast. Unfortunately, at this time, all signs point to the latter.