Miguel Almonte is not imposing at his listed 6’2", 180-pound build, but he looks thicker than that and able to handle a starters’ workload. He appears presently strong with a bit of room to fill out. At his physical peak, Almonte projects to have an average, good enough body that will not limit him, but he is also not an intimidating physical presence on the mound.
Almonte works quickly on the mound, wasting no time getting the ball back from the catcher and delivering when he is in a groove. He had a few quick innings early in the game that seemed to take under a minute to complete due to his rapid, aggressive pace. As long as he doesn’t suffer a loss in pitch quality due to his non-existent rests between pitches, I applaud this approach as it allows him to get in a rhythm, keep the hitter under pressure, and keep the defense alert.
The delivery itself is equally as quick, which I don’t see as a bad thing. He begins the delivery with a big sidestep in the Cliff Lee mold that generates good momentum but seems difficult to repeat. His entire body rocks back with it before completing the rest of the motion, which includes a very strong, Stephen-Strasburg-esque front side and a long arm path. It isn’t a very smooth delivery, which leads to questions about repeatability, but Almonte did a fairly good job of repeating his motion during his outing. I don’t have an issue with a delivery that isn’t smooth so long as it is repeatable, a category in which Almonte’s delivery fits. Out of the stretch, Almonte cuts down on his leg kick and works in the 1.35-1.4 range.
Like most pitchers, Almonte pitched off of his fastball. He offering ranged from 91-95 MPH with good, late arm side run that made it difficult to square up. Salem’s lineup featured a lot of lefties but Almonte found success by making the pitch run away from their barrels, resulting in weak ground balls or swings and misses. He was able to pitch to all parts of the zone with the offering, including inside or chase pitches up and out of the zone, but lived away the majority of the time. He was aggressive with the offering, especially early in the game and early in at bats. This burned him a few times when the pitch was left over the plate, but it’s difficult to make significant criticisms about an aggressive pitcher not afraid to challenge a hitter. This is an offering with solid-average velocity, at least average command and plus movement, making it a potential above average pitch moving forward.
I had heard plenty about Almonte’s changeup heading into the look, and it did not disappoint. The velocity difference is not huge as the pitch sat in the 86-87 MPH range, but it was extremely effective. Both the arm action and the movement on the offering mirrored that of the fastball, making it extremely difficult for hitters to identify. He generated many swings and misses with the pitch and it projects to miss bats at the Major League level. He didn’t throw it much the first time through the order, but went to it frequently during his second and third trips through the lineup. His command of the pitch was good and he spotted most of the pitches to his armside, away from the lefties. This is a present plus pitch that will be a real weapon for Almonte at the Major League level.
The third and final pitch in his arsenal was an overhand curveball that worked from 78-81 MPH. It wasn’t a true hammer – few curveballs are – but the offering has sharp 11-5 break and was consistently located at the bottom of the zone. Almonte demonstrated confidence in the pitch, throwing it in almost any count (including a 3-2 count) and getting a significant amount of swings and misses and knee buckles with the pitch. Advanced hitters will have less trouble with the offering and it doesn’t project to be the weapon it was in this outing at the Major League level, but this is at least an average to a slightly above average pitch in the long run.
Almonte ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth inning when he surrendered three straight hits. His was clearly frustrated as the third hit was not hit well and could have been caught. He took a long time before stepping back on the mound, which is a good sign of a pitcher recognizing his present mental state and taking time to clear his head before delivering another pitch. However, when Almonte finally stepped back on the mound he immediately made an errant pickoff throw to first base, but then regained his composure and retired the next two batters in order.
I am not extremely concerned about Almonte’s relatively poor season statistics, as the pitcher I saw looked like a potential mid-rotation arm at the Major League level. I certainly saw him on a good day when all of his pitches were working, but the upside he showed was no fluke. He showed the ability to command a quality fastball with good movement, a very good changeup, at least a solid average curveball. The best part about Almonte is that the risk factor is low, especially for a pitcher in High-A, as has very few developmental hurdles to clear to reach his potential as a midrotation starter. If everything clicks and he continues to develop as planned, Almonte could be a solid number three starter. If not, a number four starter seems like the likely outcome.
Other Notes From This Game
-Blue Rocks’ catcher Cam Gallagher, a native of my hometown Lancaster, PA, threw out both baserunners trying to steal and saved another run by successfully deking a baserunner trying to score from third on a bloop single. Gallagher was named to the 2014 Carolina League Midseason All Star Team and Baseball America rated him as the top defensive catcher in the Carolina League, rankings which appeared justified based on my look.
-Bubba Starling did Bubba Starling things, showing little balance or bat to ball ability at the plate but good power and speed. His routes in the outfield were also questionable and he allowed two hits to get by him for extra bases, although one happened in a downpour and he slipped right as he was about to have a chance to make the play. It’s easy to see the tools the resulted in his large bonus, but Starling still has a long way to go.
-Raul Mondesi didn’t do much at the plate but looked very smooth in the field. He looks the part of an above-average defensive shortstop at the Major League level.
-Salem righty Simon Mercedes had a nice outing and showed a good power fastball, but his offspeed was not impressive. His slider wasn’t very sharp and he didn’t have much of a changeup, leading me to question his long-term role. He could be a good power reliever, however, especially if the fastball can play up in shorter stints.
-Wilmington has a very nice park, a friendly gameday staff, a Grotto Pizza that is reasonably priced and a fun story behind the Blue Rocks’ celery logo and mascot that is worth sharing. Wilmington was a Royals’ affiliate, then went to the Red Sox for a few years and then back to the Royals. When the Royals were moving back into the stadium, someone found a celery costume in a closet somewhere and no one knew where it came from. Neither the former Royals teams nor the Red Sox affiliate used the costume, but the new Royals’ staff decided to incorporate it one game, just for kicks. So, after the Blue Rocks scored a run, a celery mascot ran onto the field, briefly danced around and gave a few high-fives, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. By popular demand, the mascot has stayed and now every time the Blue Rocks score, the celery mascot comes out on the field, does his dance, and then goes back into the tunnel. The Blue Rocks have embraced it and now wear BP hats with the celery stalk and sell T-Shirts that say "Talk to the Stalk."
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Dan Weigel, who enjoyed Grotto Pizza but regrettably did not purchase a "Talk to the Stalk" shirt at this game, is an author of Minor League Ball and a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanWiggles38.