Chicago Cubs: Getting to know outfielder Albert Almora


With Dexter Fowler likely on his way out of town, the Chicago Cubs may start looking more closely at their budding outfield prospect Albert Almora next spring.

As much as we’d all like Dexter Fowler to return to the Friendly Confines in 2016, odds are, if he sets foot at Wrigley Field next year, it will be in road grey as an opponent of the Cubs.

After re-establishing his value this year with a solid campaign at the plate, and despite sub-par defensive work in center field,  he’s expected to get a hefty pay raise this offseason. He’s going to get a qualifying offer from Chicago and if/when he leaves, the Cubs will get a compensatory draft pick from Fowler’s new club.

So if that plays out as most anticipate it will, the Chicago Cubs have a void in center field in their Opening Day lineup card. Some believe Kris Bryant could shift permanently to the outfield, while others believe there could be some other internal options that could keep the spot warm for Albert Almora, who is get to play above Double-A Tennessee.

With that in-mind, it seems fitting to take a look at the work Almora has turned in so far in his professional career. It’s no longer far-fetched to think we’ll see him patrolling center field as early as this summer for the Chicago Cubs.

After being drafted with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, Almora broke onto the scene in a big way, batting .321/.331/.464 between Rookie-level ball and Low-A Boise to go along with a .987 fielding percentage, five stolen bases and 12 doubles in just 33 games.

That rookie campaign helped propel him to the #18 spot on Baseball Prospectus’ rankings ahead of the 2013 season; and he failed to disappoint, posting an .842 OPS with Class-A Kane County across 61 games. He also appeared in the Arizona Fall League that season, driving in a dozen runs in just 21 games – again raising expectations for the young prospect.

Through no fault of his own, he fell to the #25 spot in the BP ranking list prior to 2014. So, naturally, there was only one way to respond: prove he belonged higher than that. After tearing it up with High-A Daytona, Almora stumbled badly in his first taste of Double-A action, struggling to a .234/.250/.355 slash-line, due largely in part to 23 strikeouts as opposed to just two base-on-balls.

Prior to that point, he’d been back-and-forth in terms of plate discipline, but late in 2014, his plate approach seems to have just fallen apart, lending fuel to those who worry about Almora’s bat playing well in the big leagues.

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After putting in work in the offseason, though, the 21-year-old looked like a completely different player at the plate in 2015, batting .272/.327/.400 in 107 games with the Smokies. What stands out most is the 32 walks alongside the 47 strikeouts – a much more balanced set of numbers to behold.

Not targeted as a power bat, Almora smacked 26 doubles with Tennessee – and silenced a great many of his critics. Now, some have believed that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will give him a chance to make his case for the Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day roster straight out of Spring Training – but I don’t see that happening.

This regime has been adamant about getting their players at least a little taste of high-minors experience, as we saw with Addison Russell, Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all getting some time with Triple-A Iowa – and we have no reason to believe Almora will be any different.

Chicago will likely feature Almora in the outfield mix at some point this season, but don’t expect that to happen right out of Spring Training. He’s talented and has shown the ability to adjust, but without some higher-level experience, the big leagues may stunt his continued success.