Who Needs Girls Gone Wild?

CHARLOTTE, N.C.–In four years of college (in Florida no less), I had exactly one spring break worth remembering. As a result of being broke, or perhaps it was just my pathetic social life, I always opted to stick around campus, where the ballpark offered all the entertainment I needed.

Isn’t it funny how some things stay the same? Schools across the country take a week off this time of year, which offers a good opportunity to catch some rare matchups. So I headed south to Charlotte where Miami’s Florida Christian High was playing in a two-day tournament. Florida Christian senior outfielder Denny Almonte has been the talk of scouting circles this spring in the Sunshine State. Outside of Tampa’s Nevin Griffith (who was up to 96 mph last night with an 82 mph slider in his rematch with preseason All-America slugger Mike Burgess), Almonte has perhaps made the most significant climb up draft boards among Florida preps.

A switch-hitting center fielder who transferred from Miami Senior high prior to this year, Almonte ranked No. 46 among high school seniors in the preseason Premium, but some scouts in Florida believe he could be drafted as high as the supplemental round.

He’s long, rangy, wiry and oozes athleticism. But the team that bites on him in the top 50 picks is relying heavily on projection, as Almonte showed last night.

His first swing during batting practice was an ominous sign, as he broke his wood bat. He showed good bat speed otherwise and sprayed a few line drives during BP. He drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and also walked during the game, a Florida Christian 5-3 win over Charlotte Christian.

Almonte’s swing has some holes. From the left side, he pulled off the ball, and from both sides of the plate, Almonte’s unorthodox trigger makes it difficult for him to keep the bat head in the hitting zone for an extended period of time.

He made a nifty shoestring catch in the outfield in the first inning, doubling up a runner at first base with an impressive throw on the run. But in the seventh, he charged in on a line-drive, misplayed it, and barely jogged after it as it rolled toward the center-field fence for a three-base error.

“I think he’s a little frustrated,” said Almonte’s coach, Ernie Padron, who mentioned that his cleanup hitter hasn’t felt well during the trip. “Always having the microscope on you when you’re 17 years old isn’t easy. There’s just been so much attention on him every step, every swing he takes. I’ve told him just to go out there and play and have fun.”

Almonte was batting .418 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, and Padron’s teams always play the best competition in South Florida, so clearly he has performed much better than he did during this limited look. He shows some ability to command the strike zone, as well as adequate pitch recognition. But ultimately, his stock lies in his upside.

“I’ve learned, you just don’t walk away from athletes like this,” said a scout with a National League team in attendance. “He showed what he could do on that play in the first inning, and you have to appreciate his overall athleticism.”

I’d put my money (such as it is) on Almonte being drafted in the second- to fourth-round range.

Happy spring breaking to all of those partaking.

• There were a handful of underclassmen in Tuesday night’s contest who showed some pro or at least Division-I college potential. Florida Christian junior right fielder David Villasuso smoked an 86 mph fastball into the street beyond left field for his 11th home run of the season. A righthanded hitter with below-average speed and a plus arm, Villasuso has benefited from hitting in front of Almonte in the Patriots batting order, and is also getting attention from colleges. He has above-average bat speed and repeats his short, compact swing well.

How’s that 2010 follow list looking? Charlotte Christian second baseman Trey Laney is just a freshman, but is a tough player with a fair swing and good actions in the infield. Prospects Plus subscribers can read more on the underclassmen there.

• Senior righthander Nevin Griffith’s first outing against senior slugger Mike Burgess got lots of national hype, and Griffith was again sharp Tuesday in a rematch with Burgess and Hillsborough High at Griffith’s Middleton High. He touched 96 mph with his fastball, and leaned heavily on a low-80s slider that has developed into a legitimate strikeout offering. “He rang the bell once again,” said a scout with an American League team that was among more than 30 scouts at the game. “I believe he even broke Burgess’ bat, and he was swinging metal. He’s got power (stuff).”

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