Albert Almora Jr. was the first player drafted under Theo Epstein’s new regime, and coincidentally, the latest to debut. The 22-year-old came up in June last year and did about as good as you would expect a young prospect to do, hitting .277 with three HR and 14 RBI in 117 plate appearances. He surprised some when he made the postseason roster, seen somewhat as an defensive backup in case Jason Heyward’s nightmare season continued into the playoffs. While Almora did go 0-10 in the playoffs, his future still remains as bright as it was coming into his call-up last season, and fans should already be salivating at what he can do with the glove.
Almora is a special CF. His range, route running, awareness and quick first step is everything you want in an outfielder. Take this play for example, which saved the game for the Cubs:
Not only did he make a spectacular catch, he had the presence of mind to immediately get back up and fire to first, completing the double play and ending the inning. Almora is making these plays on a regular basis, and his fielding statistics show it.
Once again we’re looking at UZR (ultimate zone rating), and thanks to Fangraphs, we can see that Almora ranked 18th among CF with at least 190 innings in UZR. That may not look like much, but take a gander at the innings column. Almora ranked inside the top 20 in UZR while only playing 193 innings. For comparison’s sake, Dexter Fowler, who had the best defensive season of his career last year, played 1027.1 innings and ranked 22nd. That’s the type of impact Almora has out there in the outfield, and with increased innings this season he should rank among the top CF defensively by year’s end.
Offensively is where Almora could breakout. He’s making contact on 79.5 percent of his swings, and his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is slightly higher than league average among qualifying hitters (.308) at .315. That along with his low strikeout totals means that his average should stay between .275-.300. However, he doesn’t walk a bunch either, as evident by his .308 OPB during his stint with the Cubs in 2016. If he can increase his walk totals then he ‘d be the perfect 9-hole hitter to complement the top of the lineup, not to mention he’s flashed the power (.455 SLG) to more than hold his own.
The only rookie that’ll be on the Cubs’ opening day roster, Almora will be in a platoon with Jon Jay. However, he should get enough at-bats to where we can adequately assess the type of player he’s on his way to becoming. Even if/when he falters throughout the season, he’ll still only be 23 years old for most of the 2017 season, so there’s room to grow. Let’s hope he makes enough improvements to seize the starting CF job in 2018.
Our 2017 season predictions: .280/.315/.450, 10 HR, 35 RBIs, 40 runs
*Image via Arturo Pardavila III