Jogging in from the bullpen for this edition of C’s Chat is 2019 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Josh Almonte.
The 6-foot-3 righthander is in his eighth season in the Toronto Blue Jays system. Born in Wesley Chapel, Florida, Almonte was an outfielder for his first seven years before making the conversion to the mound in 2018. His best season with the bat came in 2014 when he batted .307 with 13 extra-base hits, 24 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases with Bluefield. Looking back on his time in the outfield, Almonte says it was that year in Bluefield that stands out to him.
“I wouldn’t say any particular game but I think one of the things I missed the most is probably playing the outfield, maybe throwing guys out at home or third. No particular game but I would say a season I do remember was probably 2014, probably one of my best hitting years was back in Bluefield. I was 20 years old at the time but that’s a year I’ll always remember obviously because it’s one of the better years I had hitting-wise and playing the outfield-wise but that’s something I remember the most.”
It was in Bluefield that Almonte made his professional debut on the mound in 2018. The one constant in his two years there was manager Dennis Holmberg.
“I love Dennis. Dennis is probably one of the guys, the day I’m done playing baseball, one of the guys that I will always remember. I loved it. I actually had Dennis back in 2014 when I was a hitter so going back last year, you’re kind of working backwards a little bit, starting almost fresh. Playing for Dennis kind of made it a lot easier just because of his personality and having that relationship with him, playing for him in the past, it was fun.”
Unfortunately for Almonte, he could not progress with with the bat. He had an inkling that becoming a pitcher was going to be the next step in his career.
“I feel like all throughout the minor leagues and some of the coaches and some of the teammates I’ve had, I feel like little hints were always thrown at me like ‘Hey, if hitting doesn’t work out, you can always do this’ but I feel like a hit a point in my career where I kind of took it upon myself to kind of reflect on the previous years and how my career was going as an outfielder.
I took it upon myself to just say like, ‘You know, I think I gave it a shot as an outfielder.’ Obviously I’ve always have had a good arm so I was like, you know, let me take my talents to the pitching mound. That’s where I am at now.”
At the end of the 2018 season, Almonte became a free agent but the Blue Jays invited him back to the nest for 2019.
“I was super-excited. I felt like the Blue Jays have always had my best interests when it comes to my career. When they decided to bring me back for another year, I was super-excited and here I am. Just happy to be here and I want to have a good season this year.”
The partnership between Almonte and the Blue Jays began on MLB draft day in 2012 when he was taken in the 22nd round out of Long Island City High School in New York on the recommendation of scout Mike Pesce.
“The day I got drafted, I was actually heading home from school. I was taking the New York City subway. I didn’t think I was going to get drafted so I got a call from the advisor I had at the time. He’s like ‘Yeah, the Blue Jays drafted you in the 22nd round.’ I got super excited. I got home, I told my parents. That’s pretty much it for that day right there.”
Pitching in Vancouver
Fast-forwarding to the present, Almonte is happy about finally getting a chance to play in Vancouver.
“I actually skipped Vancouver as an outfielder. I went straight from Bluefield to Lansing. All throughout my years with the Blue Jays, I’ve always heard nothing but great things about playing here. When I found out that I was coming here, I was excited and kind of looking forward to a lot of the things that the players have said, how nice of a city it is.
The only negative thing I’ve ever heard is the long travel days and that’s it. (laughs). That’s the only negative thing I ever heard but it’s part of being in the minor leagues having these long travel days but I’m excited to be here and I’m honestly very impressed by Vancouver.”
C’s fans at Nat Bailey Stadium and a nation-wide TV audience watching on Sportsnet had to be impressed with what they saw from Almonte in his Vancouver debut. He picked up his first professional save with a shutout ninth inning against Spokane June 15.
“It was fun. A little nervous, a little bit but I think it’s part of it. The first time out there for a meaningful game and especially in a very important situation where you’re coming in to save the game but it was exciting. Once I got those two or three pitches out of the way, the first three, I kind of settled down and it was game on after that.”
Until pitching in Bluefield last year, Almonte said it had been a while since he last climbed the mound.
“The last time I had pitched in high school was my junior year. Last year was my first year of pitching in professional ball. The seven-year gap in between, I was just like bringing back some old memories.”
Routine & Repertoire
The biggest difference for Almonte in making the switch to pitching is his new routine.
“I think the biggest difference is the constant throwing everyday and having to monitor how much throwing you do everyday because obviously it’s new as an outfielder. I didn’t have to throw for 15 minutes or 20 minutes every day but I think that’s the biggest difference. It’s kind of having a balance of how much throwing you should do everyday or how much throwing you should do after a day you just threw in a game but I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Right now, Almonte is working on perfecting the three types of pitches in his arsenal.
“Right now, I’m throwing a fastball, a slider and every once in a while, I’ll mix in a sinker. No changeup yet. Obviously I’m just still new to pitching in a way so maybe somewhere down the line I’ll start to develop a changeup or a splitter but just right now, just fastball, slider, sinker for right now.”
The scouting report Almonte gives himself is right to the point.
“I think someone with a heavy fastball, someone who throws a hard fastball and a wipeout slider.”
New York, New York
Calling Corona, New York home, the 25 year-old Almonte says he got to see a lot of big league games growing up.
“I grew up a Yankee fan because I feel like everyone in my household rooted for the Yankees so I just kind of grew up always watching Yankee games but I’ve been to Shea Stadium or seen more Met games at their stadium more than I’ve been to Yankee Stadium just because I’m from Queens and the Mets stadium is honestly like a five-minute drive for me so it was a lot closer for me to go there.”
Thanks a million to Josh Almonte for participating in this episode of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshua__Almonte. Special thanks also to Jordy Cunningham, the C’s Media Relations Assistant, for scheduling the interview