Albert Almora, Jr does not care if you think he is not ready to move to the major leagues. He does not care if you think his bat can produce at the AAA level. If you ever listened to Almora talk, you would know he only cares about one thing – winning. That’s it. That’s all he wants. He does not care if he goes 0-5 or 5-5 as long as the team wins. He will run through a brick wall if that is what it takes.
In 2016, Almora will most likely be at AAA Iowa to start out the season. After a year and a half at AA, Almora is finally ready. In the second half of 2015, Almora, after a poor first half, returned from a stint in the Pan-Am games. In the second half Almora hit .301, with what was for him, an amazing 19 walks and a .370 OBP. In fact in 2015, Almora nearly doubled his career walk total of 33 with 32 more.
It really was a breakout second half of the season for him. And yet, not many paid attention with what was happening in Chicago.
What Can Be Agreed On
Almora is already an elite defender. At 6’2” Almora relies on instinct, a great first step, and impeccable angles to get to the ball. Except for maybe Trey Martin, there is no better defender in the Cubs organization. His arm is considered average and he is a highlight reel waiting to happen every night.
To me, he has always seemed like a caged panther in the outfield. He is always waiting to attack a fly ball or pounce on a ball in the gap.
Why Are Some Down on Him?
Since he was selected at the first draft pick by Theo Epstein in 2012, Almora has had some unrealistic expectations hung on him. He is not going to hit 30 HRs or steal 50 bases. He is not the savior of the franchise. He is, when he is at his best, an intense individual who competes at an extremely high level at the plate, on the base paths, and in the field.
To me, Albert is a great hitter – always has been since I first saw him at Kane County in 2013. That young 19-year-old coming off a broken hamate bone destroyed low A pitching to the tune of a .329 average but only in 62 games. He hit a little above average in the pitcher friendly Florida State League in the beginning of 2014. He made it to Tennessee in late July and struggled for the better part of a year to get above .250 and to take some walks at AA.
If you just watch him play in person, you can tell he is special. He can hit almost any pitch. He has incredible plate coverage and timing along with some potential for power in his 6’2” frame. The issue is, however, that his ability to hit any pitch is he downfall. Just because he can hit a pitch does not mean he should. That is the adjustment he has to make: When to layoff and when to attack.
The past two years at Daytona and Tennessee, the Cubs have been trying to get Albert to be more selective; to look for certain pitches in certain counts in certain place in the zone. It has not been an easy transition learning that approach. I think something within him clicked after the Pan-Am games. In August, he hit .352 for the month.
Making the Jump: What Needs to Happen in 2016?
Albert needs to go to Iowa and to continue to be selective at the plate. That’s it. Sure sounds easy, doesn’t it? He has to continue what he started the second half of 2016 at Tennessee. In the offensive friendly Pacific Coast League, his odds are pretty good of turning up the dial to eleven this year. But the reality is he has to hit for average, he has to take his walks, and he has to continue to be a beast in the field.
With a glaring hole for a natural center fielder for the Cubs in 2016, Almora has not been given the job or even considered by some. The thing I think most people forget about Almora is that he is still only 21 years old. He comes across as an old man in a young man’s body. When it comes to getting the position in the middle of Wrigley Field every day, he is going to have to earn it.
On the other hand, the Cubs have gone out and acquired a long term solution for an outfield position; it is almost as if the Cubs are counting on Almora to be that guy. Dexter Fowler was a placeholder last year. Maybe Heyward is only going to play center before a move over to right field in 2017.
The Cubs are not looking for a placeholder after this year. They are looking for the man. For Almora, he wants to be that man. What the Cubs care about is that Almora sustains his jump in development at Iowa. Whether he makes it to Wrigley in 2016 or 2017 is still unclear. He could be at Iowa all year, or he could be in Wrigley in July. We just don’t know. All eyes will turn to Des Moines in April.