Name: Albert Almora
Age: 21 (4/16/1994)
How Acquired: Drafted in first round 2012 (#6 overall) out of Mater Academy Charter High School, Hialeah, Florida. Scouted by John Koronko. Signed for reported $3.9 million bonus.
Status: Rule 5 eligible after the 2016 season.
When the Cubs and Theo Epstein made Albert Almora their first overall pick in the 2012 draft, it was a pick for the future. That future is getting closer.
While Almora is a candidate for a late season call-up or sooner in case of injuries, the 21-year-old still has something to prove in the minors as he’s expected to spend most of 2016 in AAA.
Despite being the “first draft pick” of the Epstein/Hoyer era, the Florida native really hasn’t had the spotlight directly on him as Javier Baez was considered one of the top prospects in baseball and the last two years, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber have headlined. While all three of those players have made their debuts in Wrigley, Almora has been making the slow trek up the minor league system.
He lived up to his billing after the draft but his first full season was slowed by a broken hamate bone and a groin injury, only appearing in 61 games. Life didn’t get any easier for Almora as he started the next season with his father battling cancer but the youngster refused to make excuses and earned a late-season promotion to AA. With his 2014 numbers less than stellar, the pundits attacked Almora’s plate discipline and low walk rate, some even dropped him off the Top 100 list. However, no list has anything to do with the actual progression of a player so Almora got back to the grind in 2015.
He doubled his walk rate, improved his on-base percentage and played for Team USA at the Pan-American Games, making history with his seventh team appearance. What no one questions is his defensive prowess and ability to cover ground despite lacking blazing speed. For me, Almora is the Cubs’ top prospect. While he may not possess the upside of Gleyber Torres, he’s the closest player to the majors than can make an impact at the big league level. Following the 2016 season, Almora will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so he’s a lock to be protected on the 40-man roster.
Almora got off to a great start, hitting .297/.333/.344 in the first 16 games but landed on the disabled list after hitting his head while diving for a ball. He also missed two games after colliding with outfielder Bijan Rademacher later in May. After returning to the lineup in early May he struggled, hitting .231/.279/.373 in 46 games. Battling through one of his toughest stretches in his young career, Almora got a needed break when he headed off to play for Team USA in the Pan-American Games in Canada. Making a record 7th appearance, Almora helped USA to the silver medal. After returning to Tennessee, Almora earned Cubs minor league player of the month for August and hit .302/.370/.448 over the final 44 games with 14 doubles. His year ended with his second concussion, crashing into a wall on Sept. 4 with a week to go in the season. Playing AA at age 21, Almora hit .272/.327/.400 in 106 games (406 at-bats) with 26 doubles and eight stolen bases. He improved his walk rate 7.1 percent (32 BB) and dropped his K rate to 10.4 percent (47 K). Spending his entire minor league career in center, Almora started 17 games in left and 14 in right in Tennessee.
Tools and 2016 Outlook
Almora continues to improve, turn his weaknesses into strengths, and gain confidence at the plate. One of Almora’s biggest strengths—his ability to make contact—is also a demon he must overcome. Because he makes contact with everything, Almora has a tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone, depriving him of pitches he can drive and hit for power. He may not walk a lot but he’s not going to strike out much either. Its been a two-year process but he’s finally turned the corner and is taking more pitches, and driving more balls. Almora has average speed but gets great reads off the bat and uses his baseball instincts for a plus runner who can steal an occasional base. His best tool is his glove, as he’s considered one of the top defensive outfielders in the minors. He gets a good jump off the bat, makes great reads with concise routes, covers plenty of ground and throws to the correct base with a strong accurate arm. With the Cubs recent additions, Almora’s path to the majors may be slightly more uphill than before but it also allows the Cubs to ease the youngster into the lineup. If the Cubs stay healthy, the slick-fielding outfielder may get a late September call-up but he’s likely to spend 2016 in AAA, continuing to develop his game at the plate. It wouldn’t surprise my at all if he got off to a hot start this spring in Des Moines and had Cubs fans screaming for his glove and bat at Wrigley.