Royals pitching prospect Miguel Almonte entered the year as the #10 prospect in the Kansas City system according to Baseball America, and it’s hard to argue that he deserves to fall from that perch in the coming ranking season. As a 20-year-old in his first full-season campaign, the Dominican righthander has posted a 3.16 ERA and 2.97 FIP with a 117/36 K/BB in 119 2/3 innings. As with any young arm in the low minors, there’s still a significant amount of mystery and uncertainty surrounding Almonte. He held up quite well in my viewing earlier this season, though, showing a good combination of potential and polish.
I saw Almonte on June 25 against the vaunted Hickory Crawdads lineup. In the outing, he went 7 2/3 shutout innings, allowing seven hits and no walks while striking out 12 of the 29 batters he faced. You can find 27 of those 29 plate appearances in the video below:
It’s clear from that video that Almonte already possesses an enviable fastball-changeup combination. The fastball worked at 93-94 mph for six innings, touching 95, and he was still at 91-92 into the eighth. The changeup has good velocity separation from the heater at 82-86 mph, and both pitches have big life–note the running action in on righthanders with the fastball and the late drop and fade on the changeup.
As impressive as the pitches themselves is Almonte’s consistency with the offerings. He uncorks them from a nice, simple, compact delivery and is generally in or around the strike zone. He also doesn’t seem to leave a lot of balls up–the changeup, in particular, appears to typically be below the waist, where it can induce both weak grounders and swinging strikes.
Almonte’s third pitch is a 76-79 mph curveball which has its moments–he throws a couple of nice ones to Jorge Alfaro at 4:25 in the video, for example–but remains inconsistent at this stage of his development. It doesn’t have a ton of raw movement and he doesn’t seem able and/or willing to put the pitch in the strike zone, essentially just reducing it to a chase pitch that he uses to give hitters a different look. Still, it does show flashes of being an average pitch already, and he shows enough confidence to throw it a fair amount–it isn’t a total afterthought like the third pitches of a number of low-minors hurlers.
Almonte’s combination of a lively heater, plus changeup, and solid control paint the picture of a Jarrod Parker sort of pitcher, though he throws harder and with more movement than Parker and may develop better command and a more reliable breaking pitch as well. It’s also worth noting that Almonte has a bit of room left to fill out his skinny frame (though he won’t carry a ton of extra weight on it), and could pick up another tick on his fastball on his ascent toward the majors. He doesn’t quite have the elite stuff to be a top-25 prospect or a potential ace, but he has plenty of already-established stuff and skills and the time and aptitude to refine other areas into strengths. He thus carries a relatively high ceiling–a good #3 starter, or even a #2 if the curve comes around–and a nice, high floor for an A-ball arm. Almonte should certainly slot in as a useful starting pitcher in the major leagues, barring a significant injury or talent regression. It’s tough to trust A-ball pitchers, and the Royals certainly don’t have the best track record of developing young arms in the recent past, but Almonte lives up to the hype as one of the best arms at the Low-A level, and is a significant pitching prospect to watch. Due to his polish, he could be a fairly quick mover and be an effective MLB starter at some point in the 2015 season at age 22.
Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.