One of my favorite sources for prospect info over the last few years has been Jason Parks, who writes for Baseball Prospectus and joins with Mike Ferrin on the “Fringe Average” podcast. He likes to emphasize a point that I think we often forget when looking at prospects; that prospect development doesn’t always follow a straight line. Prospects don’t start at a low level and then get better and better each year. There are dips in performance that can last anywhere from days to weeks to years, where tools don’t translate into performance.
In the Red Sox system, Michael Almanzar fits this example to a tee. He first came on the scene as a big money signing from the Dominican Republic, getting a $1.5 million bonus, the highest given to a Dominican player during Theo Epstein’s tenure. Normally, Red Sox signings from the Dominican play a season for the Red Sox Dominican Summer League team. Instead, Almanzar started 2008 in the rookie Gulf Coast League at age 17.
Then things REALLY got crazy. Almanzar crushed the GCL for 23 games, hitting .348/.414/.472 with 6 doubles, a triple and a home run. Seventeen year olds just don’t normally show this type of production, and the Sox responded by bumping him up to Low A Greenville, skipping the short season Lowell Spinners club.
In retrospect, the quick advancement and skipping levels look like mistakes. Almanzar struggled in Greenville, and struggled in the following three seasons for all of the Red Sox clubs in the lower minors. His best performance was in 2010 in Greenville, when he hit 27 doubles and 10 home runs over a full season. The power production was promising, but that was the only skill he was displaying, as his batting average and OBP hovered in the .200’s.
Almanzar came into the 2012 season in High A Salem basically off the prospect radar. His three seasons of poor performance meant no one was expecting any production. He responded with a breakout year, his best since joining the Red Sox system.
He hit .300/.353/.458 on the year, with 36 doubles, 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He hit for power, hit for average, and got on base at a good clip. His season was overshadowed a bit by the ludicrous years that Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. turned in at Salem, but Almanzar was suddenly a prospect to watch once more.
He’s continued his performance this year at Double A Portland, even improving in several areas. His line right now stands at .276/.343/.491, with 11 doubles and 8 home runs. His Isolated Power number has risen from .159 last year at Salem to .215 at Portland, a number that Fangraphs categorizes in the “Great” range. He plays mostly third base for the Sea Dogs, but has the ability to play first base as well.
Despite entering his sixth season in the Red Sox system, Almanzar is only 22, the third youngest player on Portland’s roster. He’s shown that he can overcome adversity and make adjustments, a crucial skill for a prospect to possess. He will need to make even more adjustments to continue to improve and make it to the majors.
With the numbers he’s putting up, Almanzar has jumped back into the 1B/3B prospect mix, an area where the Sox are relatively weak at the upper levels. Unless David Ortiz drinks from the Grail that only Mariano Rivera seems to possess, he’s nearing the end of his stellar career. Almanzar could be a cheap option at 1B/DH as soon as next season, or at third base if Will Middlebrooks continues to struggle. If the power he is showing in Double A continues, he could be something even better than that, and a great reminder that prospect development doesn’t always follow a straight line.