Almanzar's Improved Swing Leads To Big Spring

BOSTON—At the start of the minor league spring training schedule in March, the Red Sox made a quick determination about Michael Almanzar.

"Right away, we saw that wasn't going to work," Boston minor league hitting coordinator Victor Rodriguez said.

"That" was Almanzar's stance. The third baseman had eliminated a leg kick in instructional league following his disappointing 2009 season, but still, his deep crouch created unnecessary movement that made it challenging for him to square up the ball consistently.

Almanzar spent three days working with Rodriguez before returning to games, concentrating on standing more upright. The Sox were hopeful that doing so would improve his balance and allow him to drive the ball to all fields. When he returned to games, the results were almost instantaneous.

"The first day he swung the bat, he hit a line drive up the middle," Rodriguez said. "Then, two at-bats later, he hit a homer."

Thus commenced what several members of the Sox organization described as one of the most impressive spring trainings of anyone at the minor league complex. Almanzar, signed out of the Dominican for a $1.5 million bonus in 2007, was using his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame to drive the ball with greater consistency than he ever had since turning pro.

That, the Sox hope, will help Almanzar to leave behind his year-long struggles in 2009. In 49 games at low Class A Greenville, Almanzar had a line of .207/.261/.293 that led to a mid-year step back to short-season Lowell.

Almanzar returned to Greenville for the start of 2010. There, the 19-year-old showed promising results in the early weeks of the season. In his first 51 plate appearances, he had nearly as many homers (2), extra-base hits (6) and walks (7) as he did in 203 plate appearances at the level in 2009 (3; 10; 9). As such, the Sox are hopeful that one of the top power-hitting prospects in the system may be ready to start translating his potential into results.

"He's still very young, but he's impacting the ball more consistently now," farm director Mike Hazen said. "He's driving the ball. He's got more extra-base hits. He's cutting down on his strikeouts. So, we're pretty encouraged by what we've seen so far."

Sox Yarns

• Outfielder Darnell McDonald, who was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on April 20, became the first player in Red Sox history with a walkoff hit in his first game with the team, dating to when RBIs were first recorded as a statistic in 1920.

• Outfielder Reymond Fuentes was the only high schooler drafted by the Red Sox in 2009 to start 2010 at a full-season affiliate, Greenville.