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Almonte making an impression in Yankees camp

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[2]Zoilo Almonte wasn’t necessarily organizational filler, but for too long he’d been an intriguing young hitter with so-so results. He had a pretty nice year with Staten Island in 2009 — .274/.355/.440 — he followed it with a kind of all-or-nothing 2010 split between Charleston and Tampa. There was always something to like, but rarely anything to love, and he remained firmly on the fringes of prospect buzz.

Last spring was the breakout that landed him a spot on the 40-man, and his first week and a half in big league camp have him on the radar.

“His at-bats are really good,” Joe Girardi said today. “His defense has been good. He’s run the bases. Everything that you’d ask a player to do, he’s done. This is a young man that really kind of burst on the scene a little bit. He showed up on the radar, (and) we might really have something. He’s just continued to do it in camp. Has there been a hitter more productive?”

Counting his big game against South Florida, Almonte is 6-for-10 with seven RBI. You could certainly make the case that Alex Rodriguez and maybe even Jose Gil have been just as good, but Almonte has made himself a player worth watching. He hit .293/.368/.514 before a promotion to Trenton last season, and this year’s trick will be continuing that production at the Double-A level. The upper levels of the Yankees system are thin in the outfield, so Almonte could easily put himself on the verge if he continues to hit.

In some ways, Melky Mesa is a cautionary tale. Mesa was also a fringy prospect who landed a 40-man spot after a big season in Tampa only to follow it with a disappointing year in Trenton, but Almonte is younger — still just 22 — and hasn’t shown the same consistently extreme strikeout totals. Almonte is far from a sure thing, but he’s an interesting guy in an organization that’s waiting for a big-league-ready outfield prospect to emerge. Even if he’s nothing more than a switch-hitting fourth outfielder, Almonte could be helpful in these money-saving days.

Associated Press photo