Almonte enters camp with clean slate

Outfielder pleased with how Indians handled 2016 suspension

Almonte enters camp with clean slate

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Abraham Almonte was on the edge of his seat during Game 7 of the World Series. That seat was in the stands at Progressive Field, where the Indians outfielder was among the fans. Almonte was the only member of the Cleveland crowd who was pulling for teammates, not just players.

Ineligibility for the postseason was part of the price Almonte paid for the suspension he received last spring for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. When Almonte had his one-on-one meeting at the outset of Spring Training this year, Indians manager Terry Francona made it clear that the outfielder arrived at camp with his record wiped clean in the eyes of the Indians.

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"That was actually one of the things I said," Francona noted this week. "I won't bring it up anymore, but I said, 'How nice is it to sit in that chair knowing that you have a clean slate and you're moving forward?' That's exactly what it is."

That means a lot to Almonte.

In fact, Almonte said he has appreciated how Cleveland has handled his situation over the past year. After the outfielder served his 80-game suspension, he was immediately added to the Major League roster and remained with the team through the end of the season. Almonte was regularly worked into the outfield mix, even with the Indians knowing that he would not be available for the playoffs.

Almonte's athletic grab

Through it all, Almonte maintained that his role was to repay the Indians' faith in him by doing anything he could to help the club reach the postseason. When the Indians clinched the AL Central title on Sept. 26, Almonte was in the middle of the celebration in the cramped visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park in Detroit. That was a special moment for Almonte, who never felt rejected by the team or his teammates in the wake of his ordeal.

"The situation the team was in -- winning every day, everybody was doing really well -- I was ready for whatever happened," Almonte said. "If that was spending more time in Triple-A, going to the big leagues, wherever they needed me [I was prepared]. I was really impressed the way they trusted me, believed in me and put me back in the big leagues to try to help them out."

Almonte, who switch-hits and can play all three outfield spots, is in the thick of the outfield competition this spring. He projects as the backup to Tyler Naquin in center, but could also be an option in left if Michael Brantley (right biceps surgery in August) is not ready for Opening Day.

"Because of his skill set, he can bring a lot," said Francona.

On Feb. 26 last spring, Almonte sat before reporters, expressing embarrassment and confusion over his positive test for Boldenone. One year later, the outfielder continues to be embraced by his teammates, and he feels his situation provided a valuable personal learning experience.

"It's not the way that you want to learn, but I feel like I took a lot out of it," Almonte said. "I feel mentally stronger and more positive. Now I really see it, and I know that everything is possible. I just have to come to the ballpark with the same energy that I come with every day and no matter how hard or uncomfortable the situation is, I know that I'm going to get through it."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.