A Gold Glove-caliber outfield capable of hitting for average, outfielder Albert Almora was never a sure bet in the Chicago Cubs lineup on a daily basis.
Albert Almora, the third-year center fielder, began the season in the starting lineup, showing all the qualities that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. Almora opened the 2018 campaign leading off and showcasing incredible range and feel in the Chicago Cubs outfield.
But as the season progressed, his numbers trended in the wrong direction. A subpar second half with limited opportunities largely accounted for his overall .286/.323/.378 line – a marked decrease from his 2017 slash line of .298/.338/.445.
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Ultimately, Almora did not fit the mold of an everyday player for manager Joe Maddon, who preferred to platoon him against left-handed pitching.
The next cornerstone…?
Almora started hot out of the gates. He hit .304 in April and .338 in May before tearing through June, posting a .363/.375/.495 slash while hitting a pair of homers and driving in 13 runs.
While Almora hit .333 in the leadoff spot for the season, the brunt of it was done in the early months as the 24-year-old seemed to give the Cubs a consistent presence at the top of the order.
He had flashed the signs of his defensive potential since his phenomenal robbing of Buster Posey in the 2016 NLDS, but the glovework was on full display in 2018. Almora perused the center field grounds like a hawk, covering the alleys and making spectacular catches seemingly left and right:
Almora continued to flash the leather all season long, posting nine defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs and a 1.1 dWAR according to Baseball-Reference. But for all of his defensive excellence, a poorly-timed slump saw Almora’s season take a drastic turn.
… not so fast
By the All-Star Break, Almora seemed poised to have his best season yet as a big leaguer. But in July, things took a drastic turn.
Almora hit just .222 in the month, his worst split of the entire season. And by mid-August, he was no longer an everyday center fielder as the combination of a red-hot Ben Zobrist along with a demand for more power and production led Maddon to lean on Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ.
Despite continuing to hit left-handed pitching and the occasional moment of glory – such as a walk-off single against the Pittsburgh Pirates that clinched a playoff spot for the Cubs – Almora posted his lowest number of plate appearances in August and September and was often reduced to the role of spectator.
Almora posted a meager .232/.267/.280 slash after the Midsummer Classic and hit just one home run, stumbling to the finish line to end a frustrating season.
It was quite the roller-coaster campaign for Almora. At one point he looked like the player who could be a fixture as the center fielder for the Cubs for years to come. Many fans still feel that Maddon gave up on Almora too quickly and that his struggles came in part due to the skipper’s insistence on platooning the outfielders.
Regardless, it is very apparent that Almora’s future in Chicago is unclear. The Cubs could show good faith by giving consistent playing time to the player they drafted and nurtured, or they could move him in a piece to acquire left-handed relief pitching or as part of some other package.
Much like Almora’s 2018 season, the situation appears to be in flux.