Almonte Surging

There really isn’t another way to put it. Zoilo Almonte is on fire. He’s batting .351 in his past 10 games with six home-runs. He’s driven in 11 runs and continues to not just hit but hit for power. In his past 10 games, Almonte’s On-base plus slugging percentage is an absurd 1.167.

It didn’t start so hot for him though says Tampa Yankees’ Hitting Coach Justin Turner. A number of factors kept him from really peaking like he has now.

“He was kind of struggling early,” said Turner. “Not really putting good at-bats together. Then he got hurt and was down on the DL. Since he came off, he’s just been ridiculously hot.”

An owner of an ugly .182 batting average in May and a not much better .241 average in April, Almonte appeared ready to slump back into his 2008 form when his average dropped to .239 after hovering around .270 in 2009 and 2010. The left fielder hit for a little power but accounted for less than 10 homers in all but last year (when he had 13). He says not much has changed in the power department though, other than his physical condition.

He only played in 10 games in May and spent the majority of the month on the disabled list.

“Year ago, I could hit homers,” Almonte said through a translator. “But I had other problems like my knees and my back. But now with the three weeks getting over the back, I can hit them more than ever.”

Coach Turner agrees that the power surge is mostly due to his health but also points to a few mechanical issues they’ve ironed out through the first three months of the season.

“He puts himself in a bad spot sometimes,” said Turner. “He has to fly open to see pitches better. As long as he’s keeping himself in good position, his recognition is good.”

Almonte’s pitch recognition is a key to his current hot streak. Frankly, he just isn’t swinging at bad pitches. For the season, he’s struck out roughly twice as many times as he’s walked (40-18) but in his past 10 games? He’s k’d six times to go along with five walks.

“He’s getting good pitches to hit and he’s attacking them,” Turner added.

As for his injuries, Almonte says he’s hoping some extra work-out time will curtail his body’s habit for getting hurt.

“I’m working a lot on my hitting but also in the weight room,” he said. “Getting a better body. Trying to stay healthy all year.”

One of the most interesting stats of Almonte’s recent power binge has to do with his home park. He’s hit nine homers on the road but just one in Tampa. Turner shrugged and said it’s not saying much. He mentioned how dead their home field is in the gaps and how hard the wind comes in toward the plate.

Not all of that explains a 40 point drop in batting average, but on June 15th Almonte knocked a double and a homer in Tampa so maybe it’s all just coincidence. He’s played in 10 more road games this year so maybe it’s just a matter of chance. A larger sample size will reveal that answer.

Coach Turner added that at this point, with how Almonte is hitting, it’s pointless to talk about ballpark dimensions or statistical anomalies. It’s best to just let him hit.

“There’s not a park made in baseball that can keep him in when he’s hot,” Turner said. “It’s going to go out anywhere.”

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com

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Q+A With Yankees’ 4th Round Draft Pick, Matt Duran

Q: Being from New York, can you just tell me how it felt being selected by the Yankees?

A: Being from New York, it’s like the hometown team, so it’s a dream come true.

 

Q: Were you surprised when the Yankees selected you for the draft or had you talked?

A: I mean, we had talked a lot before the draft, I had been talking to scouts for a couple years, but I was still surprised cause I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I was very excited when I saw my name called.

 

Q: Can you describe yourself as a player?

A: Well I’m a third baseman. I hit for average, I’m going to hit for power. I’ve got a pretty good arm and I just gotta take a couple more ground balls and get better as an all-around player.

 

Q: Do you see yourself staying at third base throughout your professional career?

A: They haven’t told me anything otherwise, so I would assume, yeah. But I could play the other corner easily.

 

Q: Can you talk about just your hitting? What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses at the plate?

A: My biggest strengths are, I’m a great fastball hitter. I can adjust to the off-speed stuff and I can hit the ball to all fields. I’ve got some pop. I think an adjustment I’m going to have to make is from hitting high school pitchers to hitting professional pitchers. I’m gonna have to be a little more compact and quick.

 

Q: Who’s been your favorite team growing up?

A: Originally I was a Met fan but a couple years ago I started rooting for the Yankees.

 

Q: Is there anyone you can compare yourself to at the MLB level? Style-wise is there anyone you model yourself after?

A: Well I model my swing after A-Rod, to the cue actually. I studied him with my Dad and we’ve been looking at his swing for years now.

 

Q: How similar do you think your swing and his are now?

A: They’re pretty similar. You know, he has the great resume but it’s been working well for me lately so I’m going to stick with it.

 

Q: What’s been your best moment in baseball so far?

A: My best moment, well aside from Tuesday, would be playing in Yankee Stadium last summer and we played Mariano’s kid’s team and I hit a double off him. I always say I got a hit off Mariano Rivera, even though it was his son.

 

Q: Can you talk about your high school career [at New Rochelle H.S.] a little bit?

A: My high school career, I started off on the varsity as a freshman and I played four years. I started off at the bottom of the order my freshman year but I kept hitting and I moved up to fourth by the end of the year and I never looked back. The past two years have been really good.

 

Q: Talk about the coaching staff and teammates. How have they helped you as you improved a lot over the past couple years?

A: All my coaches would always stay after and help. I mean, extra B.P. and ground balls. And my teammates have always been supportive, especially this year.

 

Q: You have a commitment to Fordham University. What impressions have you gotten from the school?

A: Well it’s a great program and it’s a great school as you know, it has great academics. They have a competitive team and it was definitely a good school to commit to. It’s close to home.

 

Q: How much is Fordham going to come into play when it comes to signing? Is that going to be a quick process? What does it look like for this summer?

A: That’s a good question. I have no idea what it’s looking like. I haven’t talked about it with them or anybody yet. I’m still trying to let the glamour wear off from Tuesday cause it’s been a crazy couple days but I’m excited to be a Yankee right now.

 

Q: How does your family feel about this whole thing?

A: They’re excited. My Dad’s been training me since I was like seven. This is all he’s been talking about for years and it finally came true.

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com

Kuo More Confident in Second Season

A self proclaimed shy 19-year-old, Fu-Lin Kuo signed with the Yankees in 2010. He had a great first extended spring training, lost his way when he started the Gulf Coast League, then found his swing again in August. Kuo had a busy winter and comes into the 2011 season with some improvements ready to show.

Signed a year out of high school, Kuo was in the midst of his first year at the National Taiwan College of Physical Education when he chose to play overseas. A native of Guiren Township, Taiwan, Kuo says his first year in America was different to say the least.

“Last year, I was really shy because everything was new to me,” Kuo says through a translator. “I kind of closed myself off and didn’t want to bother anyone.”

At the Yankees’ minor league complex, you would never guess it. Kuo can be seen socializing with teammates, aided by his personal translator, and working with coaches. He says it’s due to a change in his attitude coming into his second year playing in the U.S.

“This year I’m more open-minded,” says Kuo. “I want to know my teammates and be more Americanized and know the culture of Americans.”

From a baseball perspective, Kuo is fitting in just fine. He had an up and down year last season, but his coaching staff and teammates see how hard he works and can see the constant improvements. Staten Island Manager Tommy Slater says that the up and down quality carried into this year, but he’s starting to find his groove again.

“He had a really good extended [spring training] but he had a rough start to the GCL but then he had a good August,” Slater says. “In August he got back to using the whole field. In the past week he’s started using the whole field again, and that’s really great to see.”

Slater alluded to a recurring problem for Kuo. He has a quick stroke to the ball and can generate some power (four home-runs and four doubles last season), but when his swing isn’t working, he focuses too greatly on pulling the ball. This leads to his front side pulling off the ball and missing good contact. By focusing on putting the ball up the middle or into right field, it focuses Kuo’s swing, making it more likely that he’ll have harder hits.

The coaching staff is key in helping Kuo improve his swing. He says they’re a constant positive even when he’s going through a rough stretch.

“The coaching staff encourages me a lot,” Kuo says. “They tell me the same things every day. They push me really hard and tell me to never give up.”

Kuo’s fielding is also an interesting topic. Last year, his foot work needed help and he committed 16 errors in 36 games. But coming into this season, he looks like an above-average defensive prospect. The coaches have him attacking ground balls and playing with a recklessness that he said is important.

“I’m playing very aggressive. I’m never passive,” says Kuo. “I’m not afraid of making errors this year so if it’s a high hopper or anything, I just go for it. I don’t think too much.”

In an extended spring training game on May 19th, Kuo had three hard hits at him in the 6th inning. His improved footwork was apparent. He fielded a couple very tough short-hops and also a hard sinking line drive. His fielding doesn’t look to be much of a weakness right now, though consistency, Coach Slater said, is the key.

“I think what we’ve seen [in his hitting and fielding] have been improvements,” Slater added. “And now we just need to see it consistently, day after day.”

For Kuo, the consistency is linked unto his mindset. The Taiwanese 20-year-old has a bright future if he can continue to improve at his current pace.

“If I have a strong confidence then everything’s easy for me,” Kuo says. “I know I’m a good player, so I’m not scared. Everything’s mental in this game.”

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com

Marshall Starting To Pick It Up

Brett Marshall’s last two starts have been gems. On May 2, at the Clearwater Thrashers, he struck out nine batters in five innings. On May 7, he allowed just one run through six innings while holding Lakeland to a .105 batting average. Based on those two starts, it’s hard to imagine how Marshall’s ERA is still hovering just under seven. But it is and apart from those two appearances, it’s been pretty ugly.

Marshall, a sixth round draft pick in 2008, was ineffective in April, pitching to an ERA of nine through the first month of the season. His troubles hit a peak on April 22 against Dunedin when he only made it through 1.2 innings while allowing eight earned runs and not striking anyone out.

It should be noted that this isn’t the typical Brett Marshall. The 21-year-old managed an ERA of 2.57 last season in his first stint with Tampa, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 70:26. It’s hard to put a finger on what’s been troubling the righty.

“I’m trying to get back the arm action and mechanics and get back to last year,” said Marshall. “It takes some time to get back but I’m starting to find it a lot better now.”

Although the physical may play a large part, one of the biggest improvements Marshall has made is in his mental game. He says the focus he brings to the mound is key to the consistency and effectiveness of his pitching. Although the focus is a broad idea, he says he’s working on honing on specific aspects of concentration.

“I’m really focusing on each pitch I make,” he says. “Each pitch I make is valuable.”

Marshall’s repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball, a two-seam sinker, a change-up, and a newly developed slider.

The slider is a pitch that Marshall stopped throwing for two years before beginning again last season. He says that in the 2009-2010 campaign, it wasn’t nearly as effective as it is now.

Tampa’s pitching coach, Jeff Ware, agrees and explains that when Marshall came into the Yankees’ organization, the slider was a similar velocity to his fastball, which made the pitch more of a cutter than an off-speed breaking ball. Once a few miles per hour were taken off the pitch, it became the strikeout pitch it is today. Ware says the slider was the key to Marshall’s May 2, nine k performance.

“He’s able to use his secondary pitches in fastball counts. That keeps hitters off balance,” says Ware.

The strikeouts are a bit of an anomaly though, as Marshall’s usual game-plan involves quick at-bats and quick outs. Ware says that a goal he and Marshall have for every at-bat is to record an out within three pitches.

His sinker is his most reliable pitch, and he recorded 1.7 ground out for every fly out last year. Ware says that Marshall has the stuff for big strike-out numbers, it’s just not an efficient way to go about their business. They would rather have him go seven or eight innings with a low pitch count than five innings with eight strikeouts.

Ware, who’s in his third year working with Marshall, isn’t shy when discussing what he thinks of Marshall’s collection of pitches.

“He’s got a power arm, a good fastball, he’s got a good, hard, true slider, and he’s got a change-up that has some bottom to it,” Ware says. “So when he’s throwing those three pitches for strikes, he’s very difficult to hit.”

Although his previous few outings do lend themselves to optimism, the Tampa Yankees’ record sits at 10-21 and Marshall’s at 2-4. He isn’t the only one struggling to right a very tumultuous April, which could be viewed as a negative point. Marshall sees it opposite.

“It’s good that we’re all struggling instead of one person or one part,” Marshall says. “At least it’s all as a team and then eventually we can all turn that around. And I think we will; we’re working really hard.”

Marshall is working exceptionally hard this season, watching film, working on his muscle memory (to repeat his delivery, says Coach Ware), and even watching catching drills to be more in sync with his battery mates.

Wins have been few and far between for the Yankees, but he continues to look to improve, and there’s still a lot to be learned and gained from his first seven starts. His ERA won’t stay above six for much longer says Coach Ware, but either way, Marshall is going to keep pushing, working, and pitching.

“I don’t worry about my numbers right now,” Marshall says. “I like to go out there and pitch as well as I can and try to help get a victory for our team.”

This article was originally published here at pinstripesplus.com

Banuelos Has Final Spring Training Tune-up

  • The story of Charleston’s 8-5 loss against Toronto on Saturday was defense. Plays, both tough and routine, in the infield and outfield, were not being turned. It affected the pitcher’s stats and put the offense in a 6 run whole by the 3rd inning.
  •  Charleston starter Brett Marshall pitched just two innings, while surrendering 6 runs and allowing 10 runners to reach safely. The infield can be to blame for at least three of those runners, as they botched a double play (allowing both runners to be safe) and mishandled two ground balls in just the first two innings. Marshall may have been hit, but it’s also a testament to his ability to find the strike zone. He recorded 4 strikeouts to just one walk.
  • Tampa won Saturday’s contest 3-2, led by an effective effort from Manny Banuelos. The ace didn’t have his best stuff, as Toronto made a lot of solid contact, sending a few balls to the deep parts of the outfield. But the defense held up and Banuelos continued to challenge hitters. He ended with a respectable line of three innings pitched and one run allowed on three hits, while recording just one strikeout and no walks.
  • Charleston’s Starting lineup- Slade Heathcott, Anderson Feliz, JR. Murphy, Gary Sanchez, Rob Sedegin, Ramon Flores, Kelvin Deleon, Kyle Roller, Jose Mojica, and Eduardo Sosa.
  • Tampa’s Starting lineup- Abe Almonte, Carmin Angelini, Rob Lyerly, Luke Murton, Taylor Grote, Zoilo Almonte, Kyle Higashioka, Deangelo Mack, Walter Ibarra
  • Josa Mojica had a memorable day for Charleston. Batting out of the nine hole, he went 3-4 with a double and two rbi. Mojica was a catalyst in the late comeback attempt, recording rbi singles in the 7th and 9th innings. Both knocks were well hit line drives and easily scored the runners.
  • Cory Arbiso was key for a Tampa bullpen that only allowed one run over seven innings of work. Arbiso worked the 4th and 5th innings with ease, sandwiching a walk between a pair of strikeouts in the 4th, and getting Toronto out in order in the 5th.
  • Tampa didn’t have a very impressive day at the plate, as none of the starters were able to muster up more than one hit against Toronto. Carmin Angelini did have a busy day on the basepaths though, swiping three bags, and getting caught once on a close play at third. He accounted for one of Tampa’s three runs in the victory.
  • Rob Lyerly [1-4, K], Taylor Grote [1-3, K], Zoilo Almonte [1-3, 2b], Deangelo Mack [1-3, sb], and Walter Ibarra [1-3, CS] all had hits for Tampa on Saturday.
  • Slade Heathcott finished the day 1-3 with a run and two walks, but it was his centerfield play that had the biggest effect on Saturday’s game. Heathcott dropped a flyball that would’ve ended the second inning for Charleston, instead the error gave Toronto two more runs and a runner on second.
  • Jose Quintana, part of the extended Spring training squad, pitched the last 1.2 innings of Charleston’s loss, and did so impressively. He did not allow a hit, induced two weakly hit groundouts and struck out a pair of hitters.
  • Gary Sanchez wasn’t effected by his teammates’ poor defensive showing on Saturday. The Charleston catcher was a wall behind the plate, rarely allowing a past ball, especially with men on base. Sanchez showcased his arm as well, throwing out both runners who attempted to steal while he was in the game.
  •  JR Murphy [1-3, rbi, 2b], Sanchez [1-3, K],  and Rob Sedegin [1-4, K, GIDP] also had hits for Charleston in the loss.

This article was originally published here on pinstripesplus.com.