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MLB Rookie Profile: Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs

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Young Cubs outfielder features excellent glove but uncertainty about offensive projection

MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora had an excellent spring training: in 66 at-bats over 23 games he hit .318/.324/.636 with seven doubles and four home runs; he also led the club with 21 RBI. He played well when he was promoted to the majors last year (.277/.308/.455 in 112 at-bats) while drawing notice for his defense, and his instinctive baserunning made a difference in the World Series.

Almora is right on the edge of rookie eligibility for 2017. MLB.com didn’t consider him a rookie due to service time but Baseball America did since he is under the 130 at-bat standard. I usually use the latter standard so I ranked him fifth on my pre-spring training Chicago Cubs Top 20 prospects list with the following comment:

5) Albert Almora, OF, Grade B: Age 22; hit .303/.317/.416 in 320 at-bats in Triple-A, .277/.308/.455 in 112 at-bats in the majors; there’s some question about his rookie eligibility for 2017 but he is under the limit on at-bats so I will include him; outstanding defensive outfielder and will hold a roster spot for years based on the glove alone, main question going forward is power development; impatient and OBP will be very dependent on batting average, so more power would be helpful to make him a fully productive bat; most likely a better real-life player than a fantasy one. ETA 2017.

Does his strong spring performance give us any additional data?

Yes and no.

The increase in isolated power he showed after he moved up to the majors has held true this spring and while sample size is a peril, I think it plausible we will continue to see a gradual uptick in power. However, the over-aggressive approach remains a significant concern. He drew just one walk this spring against 15 strikeouts, and while it didn’t impact his production, it does nothing to ease worries that pitchers will take advantage of his approach.

Projection systems pick up on all this. Steamer has him at .269/.300/.398, ZIPS at .269/.296/.393, PECOTA at .254/.281/.393. With a bit more optimism on ISO, I’d ballpark him around .265/.295/.400. Combine that with the defense and you have a viable player, but with absolutely no slack at all. If a slump or simple bad BABIP luck cuts too much into his batting average, his OBP becomes too low to make him playable as a regular.

Overall, despite the hot spring, I think the pre-season take remains in place. Almora will be in the major leagues for years due to his defense alone. He’ll contribute with his power as well, but whether he becomes a long-term lineup mainstay will depend on if he can keep his swing-at-everything approach from undermining his other talents.