Baseball is played way different up here. It's all grown men. Everybody knows their roles. There's a lot less errors. And as far as pitching, everybody's good, you know. All throwing 90 plus. —Orem Owlz pitcher Yency Almonte
When the Orem Owlz took the field for their home opener this season, they sent right-hander Yency Almonte to the mound. Even though Almonte was going into his second year as a pro with the Los Angeles Angels’ organization, he was still very inexperienced.
Almonte, who had just turned 19 years old a mere 18 days before that game, lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits and took the loss for his team.
After that game, new Orem manager Bill Richardson made note of the circumstances young Almonte had been put into, chalking up the rough start to opening night jitters.
“Yeah, that’s understandable,” Richardson said at the time. “Opening night, big crowd — a lot of nerves going on there. But I thought Yency made some good pitches out there tonight.”
That has turned out to be more than just coach speak from a manager protecting one of his players. Less than four weeks into the 2013 campaign, Richardson has given the ball to Almonte every fifth game. That alone is testament that the Angels are standing by one of their most promising pitching prospects, regardless of the game-to-game performances this early in his career.
Taken right out of high school in the 17th round by Los Angeles in last year’s MLB First Year Player Draft, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound rookie has plenty of upside.
After signing, he was immediately sent to the Angels of the rookie-level Arizona League, where he made three appearances — not the load of work he had become accustomed to while starring at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, but it was a start.
“There was a big difference,” recalled a smiling Almonte. “I had to get used to it at first. I walked into the locker room, you know — where I’m used to being the tallest one, and everybody there was nearly as big as me.”
In addition to noticing that he was no longer playing against high school kids who may have been smaller in stature, Almonte realized the level of baseball was also greatly elevated.
“Baseball is played way different up here,” he said. “It’s all grown men. Everybody knows their roles. There’s a lot less errors. And as far as pitching, everybody’s good, you know. All throwing 90 plus.”
Almonte has all those tools, it seems, built into him already. He has the size, the ability, the maturity and personality of a future big league ballplayer — most likely the reason the Angels would take a chance on such a raw prospect.
Back in Miami, the young Owlz hurler spent the majority of his playing days as an outfielder. He was following in the footsteps of his older brother, Denny, who is currently in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
“I didn’t really start pitching until my junior year,” said Almonte, whose velocity is already hanging around 94 mph. “Last year was probably my first full year of pitching. So it’s all happened pretty fast.”
Since becoming a pro, Almonte has relied heavily on his coaches to guide him. After years of getting good advice from his brother on what to expect from coaches in professional baseball, the 19-year-old righty has been soaking up as much from Owlz pitching coach Chris Gissell as possible.
“For me a good connection with my pitching coaches is the most important thing,” Almonte said. “It’s helped me out a lot here — and last year too just knowing what to expect, and what they want me to do on the mound. It really has given me a lot of confidence.”
The parent club in Anaheim will no doubt be keeping a close eye on Almonte as he continues to learn the ways of being a professional pitching prospect.
Since his first start, which didn’t go quite as well as he would have liked, he has won his first game as a pro and has reduced his ERA significantly. His control has improved and he is pitching deeper into games.
“That’s the key for me, really,” Almonte said. “Improvement every day is what I’m mostly working on, so if you look at it that way things are going pretty good for me right now.”
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute to DNews Preps for your area, enquire at 801.237.2143.