Chicago Cubs: Has Albert Almora Jr. proved himself?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13: Albert Almora Jr.
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 13: Albert Almora Jr. /

Coming into the season, Albert Almora Jr. was given every opportunity to seize next season’s starting center field position for the Chicago Cubs. Has he done it?

The Chicago Cubs‘ Albert Almora Jr. always had a tough path to big league glory. A good prospect but not a great one, it didn’t help that the farm system he was in was littered with future stars. Alas, he made his mark on Chicago Cubs’ history last postseason, scoring the go-ahead run in Game 7 of the World Series.

2017 saw an opportunity for Almora to have an even bigger mark. With Dexter Fowler gone to free agency, he was poised to be his replacement in center field. However, a Jon Jay signing and subsequent platoon have kept him from amassing everyday playing time.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Almora was still just 22 coming into this season and coming off a short rookie year. He hadn’t earned the starting gig per se; until the Jay signing it was a born-out-of necessity type deal. Being that the latter’s deal is only for this season, Almora is once again slated to handle CF next year. The question is, has he earned it?

In almost 300 plate appearances Almora has a slash line of .292/.336/.431 with seven homers and 43 RBIs. The first number that strikes me most is that batting average. In a perfect world, Almora develops into a top-of-the-order hitter due to his ability to make contact and solid batting approach.

His Z-Contact, Fangraphs’ term for contact percentage on pitches inside the strike zone, has Almora ranked in the upper echelon of the league. He also ranks high in lowest strikeout percentage – a good combination. That means he’s usually putting the ball in play when he’s swinging at good pitches.

Future leadoff man?

Almora has batted 1st or 2nd in the order in 22 games this season, starting eight of them. He has a combined .318 batting average in those games, which is great but doesn’t tell the whole story. His on-base percentage is also .318, which means he’s not walking at all at the top of the lineup.

A good leadoff hitter not only puts the ball in play but also takes his fair share of walks. Almora’s walk rate across all games is 6.4 percent. The percent of his plate appearances that don’t end up in either a strikeout or walk (so his contact percentage) is 76.5 – over 3/4 of his PAs. Decent, but there’s obvious room for improvement.

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Almora doesn’t HAVE to be the next Fowler for the Cubs. That would be the absolute best-case scenario, but if the young outfielder can develop into a viable big league starter than that’s a W in my book. So far Almora has shown that he can handle an everyday role, albeit one that doesn’t offer much upside or power… yet.

So the question remains: can the Cubs trust Almora to have a much larger role next season? Defensively, of course, they can; after all, he is one of the very best fielding his position. Offensively, however? That’s a more difficult question to answer. However, all signs point to Almora having proven himself this season and worthy of an increased role in 2018.