Albert Almora Jr.
If one were to simply read his press clippings, the perception would be that it’s been anything but a smooth climb through the minors for former first-rounder Albert Almora – this in spite of the fact that the instinctual outfielder has progressed through the entirety of the Cubs’ system in just 345 games, and is well positioned to make his major league debut in Wrigleyville as a 22-year-old later this year. True, Almora’s walk rate has been microscopic, and his aggressive approach at the plate has lead to a fair amount of soft contact on pitchers’ pitches. But steady growth in his offensive game has been a constant, and even with some very tough stretches Almora sits on a career minor league slash line of .291/.327/.422.
Through his first 83 PAs in 2016, Almora has shined in his Triple-A debut in Iowa, slashing .351/.390/.527, with nine strikeouts and six walks. Some of the production is attributable to a .370-plus batting average on balls in play. But the scouting backs up the offensive jump, as well, with Almora showing more selectivity in the pitches he is attacking in the zone and a slightly more efficient path to the ball. Given his elite contact rates – fueled by impressive hand-eye coordination – and solid bat speed, as well as an increasing ability to add some loft to his hard-hit balls, Almora could emerge as a potentially impactful number two hitter, with a fallback as a quality down-lineup bat with BABIP-driven production from year-to-year.
While some concerns remain regarding Almora’s ability to execute a disciplined plan of attack against major league arms, there’s no doubt as to caliber of his glove, reads, routes and easy plus arm out in center field. Not only does Almora stand out for his efficient routes, but his first step off of contact is among the truest and quickest you’ll see in the outfield grass. He runs well enough to cover large swaths of the outfield, and his feel for tracking down lofted drives helps his already solid foot speed to play even better.
There’s time for Almora to continue to develop his offensive game in Iowa, and little need for the Cubs to rush him up to Chicago. And while he projects well as a pure center fielder that could fit well into Chicago’s long-term plans, a loud first half in Iowa could push his stock high enough that he becomes too valuable as a potential trade piece to hold on to. He doesn’t grab the headlines in the prospect-driven media, but Almora might be one of the most interesting storylines in the Pacific Coast League over the next three months. –Nick J. Faleris