It’s not often, and indeed usually not warranted, for a platoon outfielder to draw my attention like Abraham Almonte does. Perhaps it’s because his name is so delightfully alliterative, perhaps it was that steroid suspension that truly caught my eye. But whatever magic it is Abraham Almonte is wielding, he has my attention and he deserves recognition.
Surely you’re already asking, recognition for what? It’s not as though we’re talking about a 23-year old breakout super stud here. Almonte is 28-years old, he’s been muddling between the minors and majors for a couple years, and has been a part of four different organizations. Maybe I just want to salute sudden competence, or just that he's got some kind of intangible, fun aura to him. There’s something about him that I just enjoy so much, and I like having him on the team. It's not just him being a nice on-field mascot. For one thing, and most obviously, the numbers he’s posted as an Indian have been very good.
It’s only 76 games with the Tribe, but to this point Almonte has been an above average player at the plate. While "above average" isn’t exactly what most people are shooting for, but he did only cost a speedily declining Mark Rzepczynski. He’s produced a 104 OPS+ in Cleveland between last year and this, and worth 1.7 bWAR. It’s a counting stat, which means if it were prorated Almonte would be just as beneficial to a team as Jose Ramirez. That young man is being celebrated, so why not Almonte?
Then there’s the aggression, sometimes bordering on recklessness. Ideally this isn’t what you want in a player because it leads to dumb outs and makes your team lose more. But on times like Thursday night, when he doubled high off the wall and tried to stretch it to a triple and got gunned down? I salute this. I don’t want a whole team like this, you’ll make a game’s worth of TOOTBLANs in no time. Sometimes he takes a weird route to the ball, not ideal for an outfielder, but he can at least usually make up for it with speed. Eye test tells us I shouldn't relish his time in the field, but at the same time both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference suggest he has been a positive defender in his time in Cleveland. So I just don't know what to think about him as a player. But mystery itself is compelling.
I like his impatience, too. Whatever the Cleveland Indians brass saw in him when they traded for him, it wasn’t a desire to work walks. It’s not that I like watching a batter whiff on three or four pitches, but I do like seeing him just get up there and be a hitter. I still think he can be better than he already has been, he’s only just now getting a chance for consistent play. Maybe that consistent field time will iron out his occasional going idiot. In this modern day where players like Mike Napoli just take forever at the mound, Abe wastes no time. Plus if it's a blowout game one way or the other, he gets the end of the game a bit closer, faster. Which is very kind.
He’s just so jolly looking, too. How can a man whose base template is "speedy outfielder" look like he’s twenty pounds overweight? I swear he’d look just fine wearing old coveralls and driving around in a panel van doing odd jobs. I like to think his brother is an electrician. I feel like there’s the beginnings of a nickname in there somewhere, we’ll have to massage it a bit. His beard certainly adds to the "blue collar laborer" vibe too. I guess I just like how he moves way quicker than he seems like he should.
If the Cleveland Indians were doing worse, if they were blowing games in stupid ways or just playing baseball like old garbage, the foibles of Abraham Almonte would not be as fun. But the team is good, and it allows us to enjoy a bit more idiocy out of players. And it’s good to have a scapegoat, too. As a boy, for instance, I irrationally blamed Carlos Baerga for the failings of the mid-'90s Indians. It didn’t make any sense, he was a very good player. But I needed something, someone to blame. Almonte is much better suited to be the whipping boy for the Indians. He plays every day, he has highlights of knuckle-headedness, and he isn’t quite good enough to truly gloss over the bad stuff like 2014’s Yasiel Puig.
There's no reason for me to really enjoy Abe Almonte as much as I do. He’s pretty much the same thing as Rajai Davis production-wise, who I don’t mind too much. But he’s got a silliness to him, he makes life a bit of a roller coaster for a baseball fan, but he’s proving to be a better player than anyone had any right to expect.