After an absolutely brutal year-plus stretch, Albert Almora needs to prove himself this spring if he wants a future with the Chicago Cubs.
Albert Almora’s tenure with the Chicago Cubs could easily be described as disappointing. The once highly-touted prospect has fallen to his lowest point after a total offensive collapse in 2019, leaving his future with the team in limbo.
Almora faced his first demotion to Iowa since 2016 last year and ended up hitting for a miserable 66 OPS+ in 130 games. His defense also took a hit, dropping from a 1.9 UZR in center field to -2.5. Combined, this makes it seem probable that Ian Happ will start over Almora come spring time.
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For this reason, it seems like Almora will be under more pressure than ever to perform during spring training. Given what happened with Happ at the beginning of last year coupled with all of these struggles, it’s not hard to see Almora ending up back in the minors to figure out his swing and squash these defensive woes.
Thus far, the Cubs have made it clear that they still have some faith in the young center fielder, but any further struggles against spring training opponents will likely spell doom for his chances at starting the year in Chicago. The team has enough potential outfield options to go into the regular season without Almora, giving him time to get everything together. As stated before, Happ’s pedestrian 2018 followed by a horrendous spring training also serves as a precedent for this situation.
The Cubs broke camp without Happ last year after he hit for an ungodly .132/.196/.192 in Cactus League action. His stay in Iowa wasn’t in vain, however, as he started mashing the baseball once he came back, racking up 11 long balls in 156 plate appearances and sported a 126 OPS+. While this is a small sample size, one has to wonder if the same revitalization could be done for Almora should spring training prove he still hasn’t found his groove.
On the flip side, a monster spring performance could instead push Happ out of the center field job, provided Almora can also prove that the same defensive miscues won’t be an issue. Almora has shown that he can reach the potential Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer saw when they drafted him, indicated by the strong first half of 2018 when he was in the midst of a battle for the National League batting title. It’s possible he tears spring training apart and fights his way into the lineup.
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Whatever the case, this spring will determine Almora’s immediate future as well as the path to redemption he will be on with the Chicago Cubs organization. It’s completely in his hands whether he starts this year in Iowa or in Chicago. He has the talent, it’s just a matter of whether he can put it together enough to warrant a spot in the majors or if needs more time to get back on the right track.