By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – A question I have been asked on each show I have been on recently on 710 ESPN Seattle is whether Abraham Almonte will make the team.
Poor spring numbers likely won't keep Abraham Almonte from beginning the season as the Mariners' leadoff hitter and starting center fielder. (AP)
For the more casual fan, they probably will recognize the name but assume that he is the fourth-outfielder candidate because he is young and his numbers haven't been great this spring. For us, he is the guy who has manned center from day one. Of course he is going to make the team.
Almonte has led off and started 20 of 29 and 12 of the last 14 games in center. If that doesn't scream Opening Day roster I don't know what does. There is that matter of his numbers, however. How could manager Lloyd McClendon allow a guy who is hitting .174 with an on-base percentage of .237 make the team, let alone be the leadoff hitter?
McClendon has made it clear that he is not just looking at spring players with any player in camp. With Almonte, he has seen improvement in the at-bats and number of times he makes solid contact. He sees him progressing in a positive direction at the plate. McClendon's comments about what he has seen from Almonte and what he expects from his leadoff hitter can be heard here.
One thing McClendon talks about is how he expects Almonte to use his most valuable tool, his speed. If he doesn't, he may not be up with the big club for long. The average and the on-base percentage will have to improve and if it doesn't, going back to Michael Saunders is always an option, although the Mariners believe their strongest defense comes with Saunders at a corner outfield spot.
There is still a possibility that a center fielder could be acquired through trade at some point during the season and also the chance that one of the young outfielders in the organization such as James Jones or Julio Morban could push for the position.
I don't think this will be a year-long audition for Almonte. He will have to show more with the bat or more specifically the ability to get on base. A lot of work has been put in with him both at the plate and in the field. That will continue when the regular season begins. How much he can learn and improve at the big-league level will determine how long he stays.