If everything I read and hear about Albert Almora is true, he is probably already sitting at the edge of his bed in Mesa, Arizona, full Chicago Cubs uniform on, bat in hand, just staring out the window until Tuesday afternoon.
That’s when the annual Arizona Fall League kicks off. And that’s when Albert Almora, arguably the Cubs top overall prospect, will get a chance to remind everyone how special of a player he is after an injury-shortened season during his first full season of pro ball.
Albert Almora was originally assigned to the taxi squad, meaning he would only be allowed to play twice-a-week. Once the Cubs opted to rest fellow top prospect Javier Baez, Almora took his spot on the Mesa Solar Sox roster. At age 19, Albert Almora will be one of the youngest players in a league that is often described as a finishing school for the game’s top prospects.
Selected by the Cubs sixth-overall in the 2012 draft, the 6’-2” right-hander was considered the most polished prep player available after a stellar career that included being named a member of Team USA Baseball a record tying six times.
Spanning 31 games as a senior for Mater Academy, he hit .603 (44-for-73) with 13 doubles, five triples, six home runs, 34 RBI and was 24-for-25 in stolen base attempts. He also only struck out three times and had a slash line of .667/1.164/1.831. He was part of a loaded U18 Team USA squad that included fellow first round picks — Addison Russell, David Dahl, Joey Gallo, Gavin Cecchini and Jesse Winker. Over nine games at the COPABE Pan Am Championships held in Cartagena, Colombia, he went 16-for-38 (.421) and led the team with 11 runs, five doubles, 11 RBI and nine stolen bases as Team USA went 9-0, winning the gold by outscoring their opponents 88-8. Almora was named MVP.
Aside from his talents on the field, he is also a selfless person off it. On the day he left for the Pan Am Championships, his grandmother passed away. His family decided not to tell him until he got back, thinking there was nothing he could do anyway and they wanted him to put all of his focus on bringing back the gold medal and being the leader of his team. When he came back home, he had his gold medal buried alongside his grandmother, saying he won it for her, so he wanted her to have it.
It’s easy to see why he was so highly sought after in the draft. He reminds a lot of people of Derek Jeter, who was also taken sixth-overall in the draft back in 1992. He has an incredibly high IQ and instincts for the game like the Yankees captain. While he may not excel in any one particular area, he does everything well on the field and is a leader.
Additionally, Albert Almora has excellent bat speed and could contend for batting titles at the next level. His defense is stellar and, with a strong , accurate arm and those great instincts, will be able to remain in centerfield — a premium position. While the home run power hasn’t exactly shown up in games as he has just five in 94 games, he does have 29 doubles and some of those will turn into home runs as he fills out and matures. With guys like Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Dan Vogelbach advancing through the system, they won’t need him to be a home run hitter anyway.
In his first game as a pro with the AZL Cubs, he launched a two-run homerun over the left field fence. He then dazzled with some over-the-shoulder catches in centerfield. He had a three game span in which he went 10-for-14, including a five-hit game against the AZL Reds. He also homered in his first game with Short-Season Boise. He finished the year with a .321/.331/.464 line over 33 games split between two levels. He was as good as advertised.
He was set to start his first full season at Class-A Kane County this year. Then, on March 14, this happened:
Not a good day! Broke my Hamate bone!
— Albert Almora (@albertalmora) March 15, 2013
The Hamate bone is located in the hand and is considered a minor injury despite needing surgery. He broke the bone in his left hand during an intrasquad game and wound up missing nearly two months rehabbing. Almora made his season debut on May 22 and, in typical fashion, he singled in his first at bat and finished 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI. He followed that up going 4-for-7 the next night with two more doubles. In fact, over his first seven games, he had a .519/.567/.704 line with five doubles, earning Midwest League Player of the Week honors. He missed some more time with a nagging hamstring injury and wound up playing in just 61 games. He recorded a hit in 44 of those games, including 24 multi-hit games. He finished with a .329/.376/.466 line with 17 doubles, four triples, three home runs and 17 walks to just 30 strikeouts.
The AFL begins play on Tuesday, October 8 and continues through November 14. The six teams are made up of players from five different MLB teams with each organization sending seven of their best prospects to fill out the 35 man roster. Most of the players are at the Double-A/ Triple-A level but teams are allowed to send up to two players from lower classes. The league is split in two with three teams in the East, as well as three in the West. Each teams plays 32 games with the winner of each league playing a one game championship.
Among the other Cubs prospects joining Almora on the Solar Sox is the team’s 2013 first round pick (second-overall) Kris Bryant. The 6’-5” right-hander hit .336/.390/.688 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI over 36 games across three levels in his pro debut. At age 21, Bryant is expected to be one of the better players in the league and could put on a show with his monstrous power. For Almora, it’s a chance to get some regular playing time and get in some at bats against some very good competition.
Or, he could just pull an Albert Almora, homer in first game, and go on to win league MVP honors.