As we close out the month of June and slowly approach the All Star break, the media, the fans, and front offices begin to assess the first half of the season and what’s possible in the second half. July is a pivotal month for the Yankees, where they’ll discover if Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Pineda, Eduardo Nunez, Curtis Granderson, and Francisco Cervelli can return from their ongoing injury troubles. Injuries were supposed to subside by now, but with Kevin Youkilis‘ back surgery and possible season ending surgery for Mark Teixiera, the Yankees’ injury problems are starting to look like something fundamentally wrong with the structure of the roster, something that can’t be waited out.
Broken fingers and shoulder surgeries will always remain risks in baseball, but the injuries sustained by the majority of the team can be attributed to the age of the lineup. Players like Youkilis, Rodriguez, Jeter, and Teixeira have each spent 15-20 years playing difficult positions daily, a feat that the human body isn’t built to sustain. With the trade season approaching, the Yankees could easily plug some of these holes in their sinking ship. They’ve set an example of this over the last few years by acquiring Youkilis and trading for and re-signing Ichiro Suzuki. Some younger impact players will undoubtedly become available, but there are so many makeshift patches on this current roster that one big trade won’t fix everything.It’s never been more clear just how bad this team needs a new hull.
There’s no way the organization has the pieces to trade for a new young core of players, but as Brad pointed out this morning, the Yankees have begun to give their younger players regular playing time. David Adams has struggled over these last few weeks, but Zoilo Almonte‘s production has been inspiring. Granted, he’s had a total of 14 plate appearances, but he has hits in half of them, along with 2 walks, and 3 extra base hits.
I’m not a huge fan of WAR in small sample sizes, but in Almonte’s 14 PA’s and 27.0 innings in left field, he is currently tied for the third highest positional WAR on the Yankees this season. This isn’t to say that Almonte is the third best hitter, but it shows you just how bad this offense has been. And in comparison to the player he looks to replace, it took Almonte 12 at bats to get the same amount of hits that Vernon Wells has all June. (61 at bats)
Almonte has the ability to play all three outfield positions, he looks to have good range thus far, and he’s a switch hitter. He just turned 24 years old, and he’s already performed well throughout the Yankees’ minor league system. Though he hasn’t blown anyone away with top prospect performances, the Yankees’ farm system has grown incredibly pitcher-friendly over the years, and Almonte could see a spike in offensive production in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Yankee Stadium or the rest of the non-Tropicana AL East stadiums. In terms of park adjusted wOBA, Almonte posted a .360 in Scranton this season and a .367 in Trenton in 2012. In 2011, Almonte struggled in his promotion to Trenton with a .327 wOBA, but performed very well with a .389 wOBA in Tampa. These are strong levels of production that have gone overlooked due to the leagues and ballparks.
The Yankees aren’t well known for their positional prospects of late, but they’ve also had a number of breakout players that did little in the pitcher-friendly environment. Obviously Robinson Cano was a huge surprise, but the hype around Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson was also muted, especially in their earlier years. Perhaps Almonte could also breakout after overcoming the big ballparks and weather in previous leagues.
A young breakout player is something this team desperately needs. There’s potential for him to contribute at this level, and the Yankees will give him every chance they can to see what he can do. 14 plate appearances won’t show what he’s capable of, but at least he’s earning playing time while the older guys have earned their spot on the bench.