With no more veterans blocking his path to the starting center field job, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora has hurt his own chances with a poor spring.
Once it became clear the Chicago Cubs front office had their center field options already on the roster, the discussion quieted. Ian Happ would serve as your fourth outfielder and backup infielder. Jason Heyward, obviously, handles right field and Kyle Schwarber patrols left.
Albert Almora, meanwhile, seemed likely to finally have a shot at starting on a daily basis. Dexter Fowler claimed that role for the 2016 club, while Jon Jay saw a majority of the reps there in 2017, lending a veteran presence to the young lineup.
But instead of seizing this opportunity, Almora squandered it. The young outfielder carries a disappointing .182 average in 15 games this spring. One of the big holes in his game – increasing his walk rate – seems worse than ever. To go along with that .182 clip, his OBP sits at a paltry .217 on the spring.
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs should keep close eye on non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs are giving pitcher Javier Assad a deserved shot
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
His defense is a constant, sure. But that’s not enough to earn a starting spot on this club. Happ continues to tear the cover off the ball with a staggering 1.226 OPS in 42 at-bats, the majority of which came from the leadoff spot.
His power splits evenly between swinging from the left side and the right – lending another checkmark in the Happ column in this debate. The roles are clearly switched, with Happ the likely leadoff man and starting center fielder and Almora, once again, designated to a bench role.
Suggesting Happ will play like this over the course of a 162 game season is ridiculous. But after a strong rookie showing, he’s done everything he needed to in order to seize a larger role in 2018.
Same situation for the young outfielder
What does all this mean for Almora?
It’s hard to say. To a degree, it depends on how Happ, Heyward and Schwarber perform. Schwarber, like Happ, is enjoying a tremendous spring. Now built more like an outfielder than a catcher, he seems ready to exceed expectations after a tough 2017. Heyward, though, is again a question mark.
The four-time Gold Glove winner continues to struggle at the dish. This spring, he’s hitting .216 with a .293 on-base percentage in 15 games. While his defense is all well and good, this lack of any substantive offense is a huge concern.
Should he fail to turn it around and someone like Almora capitalizes on his opportunities, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the scales tipping out of favor for Heyward. His defense is elite – the best in the game. But, at some point, you need at least some contributions at the plate.
In other words, Almora’s future and role is again largely dictated by the play of others. His mental makeup seems ready and able to handle such a situation, but at some point, you have to think he speaks up in hopes of landing a more prominent role in the lineup.
But, as the old adage goes: Actions speak louder than words.
And his actions on the field this spring haven’t supported the idea he’s ready to start for a World Series contender.