Saturday, March 14, 2015

Albert Almora Still a Big Part of Cubs Plans

Albert Almora is quietly putting together a solid spring training as he tries to rebuild his stature as one of baseball’s top outfield prospects. In 2013 Almora ranked as the Cubs number two prospect behind Javier Baez, but an influx of minor league talent and a relative down year in 2014 and Almora found himself left off a number of top prospect lists.

Almora has fallen behind Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and on some lists even CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Billy McKinny in the Cubs system. Some fans and experts are beginning to wonder if despite his stellar defensive skills, if Almora will be able to hit enough to make a difference at the big league level.

To that I say; slow down. The 2012 6th overall pick is young. Taken out of high school, Almora started his 2014 season as the third youngest player in the Florida State League playing for the Daytona Cubs and following his promotion to AA Tennessee was the 2nd youngest player in the Southern League. While with Daytona, Almora hit .283/.306/.712 with 7 HR 50 RBI and 20 doubles in 89 games. Not great, but hardly worth getting overly concerned about given his age. Things didn’t go well in Tennessee. Almora’s production dropped to .234/.250/.605 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI in 36 games. The OBP after arriving in Tennessee is absolutely concerning. But when a player, especially one as young as Almora is promoted, there is usually a bit of a learning curve.

In addition to his struggles offensively, Almora was dealing with an issue that weighed heavy on his mind. His father was battling cancer last season and that may have taken a toll on a young player still trying to gain his footing.

While most of the Cubs highly touted prospects have big, powerful bats, Almora has a conflicting style. He is a defense first, gap hitter with 20/20 potential, but not the big 40 HR potential many of his prospect peers possess. Though he doesn’t have ideal speed for center, he gets great reads off the bat and takes superb routes to the ball. That kind of defense up the middle is something the Cubs will badly need in the future far more than they need another masher, if all the other guys pan out.

Almora is likely to start the season at Tennessee after a short stint in 2014 and will have to prove that he can handle the pitching before being considered for Iowa. My guess is he spends all season in AA and if all goes well he will be on pace for a starting job in AAA in 2016 with the chance for a mid-late season call-up.

That timetable isn’t the best for the Cubs, who have Dexter Fowler signed for one season and will be able to make a qualifying offer after 2015. If Fowler has a good enough season to get a big multi-year deal elsewhere, the Cubs would receive draft pick compensation, but it would also leave a hole in center as they wait for Almora to be ready for Wrigley.

The bottom line is the Cubs still view him as a major piece of the future. They love his personality and makeup and that is something that has weighed heavily on the front office as they rebuilt the system. It’s why they drafted Almora in 2012, Kris Bryant in 2013 and Kyle Schwarber in 2014. They love the leadership quality and work ethic in all these guys. If Almora shows the mental toughness to fight through a rough 2014 and have a breakout 2015, you will surely see him back in the top half on nearly everyone’s top 100 prospects list next year. 

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