One of the great things about covering minor league baseball is that you get to see breakout performances from players you did not suspect would do so. This year, it is Tyler Alamo, the Cubs’ 24th round pick in the 2013 draft. Originally a catcher, Alamo has been playing first base most of this year. His bat has thundered away at Midwest League pitching and he is currently hitting .299 with 2 HR’s and 25 RBI. While the bat does profile for power, Alamo has really focused this year just on hitting for average.
What I like most about Alamo is you can see the progression in his game. While his catching has improved along with his bat, the depth the Cubs now have at catcher means that Alamo may not stay there. In fact, he’s only been behind the plate five games in 2016. Since his bat is the bigger draw for the Cubs, 1B allows him to focus more on hitting and developing his power.
Originally from Cypress, California, Alamo was just 18 years old when he was drafted. MLB.com said the following of Alamo at the time of his selection in 2013:
“Alamo is a physical high school catcher who has room on his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame to get even stronger. He already generates good bat speed and has the potential to develop plus power. To unlock his power potential, however, Alamo will have to improve his approach and pitch-recognition skills. Defensively, Alamo has good tools, but is still is a work in progress as he learns to use his big body behind the plate. He has an above-average arm and good hands.”
Alamo went straight to the Arizona Rookie League out of high school, and it was not the most auspicious debut that summer. He hit .111 in 11 games and drove in four. He logged only 21 innings behind the plate, but had two errors (.895 fielding percentage), a passed ball, and allowed seven stolen bases. While his bat needed work, his catching needed even more attention.
Alamo returned to Arizona in 2014 and showed improvement in both aspects of his game improved over the course of 32 games. He hit .215 with 10 RBI and began playing first despite noticeable strides in his catching. He threw out 25% of would-be base-stealers and his fielding percentage improved to .991, yet he only saw 100 innings behind the plate.
The hardest thing about drafting a catcher out of high school is developing the defensive tools needed for catching at the major-league level. Alamo continued to get better in 2015, but he still needed work on all aspects of his game. At short-season Eugene is where the bat began to show some promise. Though he has a large frame at 6’4”, the potential for power had not caught up with him yet. However, he did hit .261 while catching in 36 games and playing four more at first. Still, the propensity for passed balls and struggles to keep stolen bases down dogged him.
In the winter of 2015-16, Alamo hit the gym hard in hopes of reshaping his physique. In pictures he posted on his Instagram account (which is private), Alamo looked like a Greek god heading into spring training.
On the surface, everything is now pointing to a breakout year. While he did hit close to .400 for a while, he has leveled off in the .290 to .300 range. His walk rate is a little low at 5% while his K rate is a little high at 20%, but he is striking the ball well. His batting average on balls in play is high at .373, but that stat is in line with an upward trend every year. What I like when I watch him is he is getting better at turning on an inside pitch, which is the hardest stuff for low-A players to get their hands through the zone on.
Alamo is also starting to turn into an RBI machine, with four straight games of two or more driven in from May 24 to May 27. He has settled in nicely to playing 1B with 22 games there, and I think that’s where he is going to belong for the rest of this year.
What I also like is that he just hits the ball hard. He’s not getting a lot of duck snorts or Texas leaguers, but he’s ripping the ball. His two home runs and 5 doubles in just 29 games already exceed the output for his previous three summers combined. In fact, both of those homers have come in the last two weeks. Earlier this month, I saw him rip a foul ball out of the stadium and down the street around 450 feet. It was an epic cloutt, too bad it didn’t count. However, that foul ball showed the kind of power potential he does have.
Throughout the rest of the summer, I think that power is going to get played up even more as the temperature warms up. And based on his past, he gets better as the year goes on. This young man is on the verge of a breakout season, so you’d do well to remember Tyler Alamo.