Albert Almora is a right-handed center fielder, and just finished his age 19 season. He stands 6'2-180. He came to the Cubs as the first round pick in the 2012 draft. Taken sixth overall, Almora signed for an overslot $3.9 million to pry him away from a commitment to the University of Miami. Soon thereafter, he was sent to the AZL to begin his pro career.
Almora played in 33 games between the AZL and Northwest League in 2012, and hit like a man posessed, posting an overall line of .321/.331/.464 for the year. He spent the offseason reading rave reviews about himself, ranked in the top 3 across every major organizational top ten list (including taking the top spot in B-Pro's evaluation) and landing as a universal top-50 in the national lists. We'll get to the scouting reports below, but evaluators would consistently rave about his spectacular baseball instincts and makeup, his dedication, work ethic, and leadership qualities all projecting to make his slate of average-to-plus tools play up. BA's Jim Callis and Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks would both comment throughout the season that, going into 2013, Almora was the safest bet among Cubs prospects to be a solid contributor at the major league level.
Albert was sent to Kane County to start the season, with the anticipation that he would race through the system.
The season got off to an ominous start for Almora, who broke a hamate bone in his wrist in spring training and would subsequently not arrive in Kane County until May 22nd, missing the first month and a half of the year. He would quickly make up for lost time, however, turning in a blistering .404/.434/.543 line in 22 games before the All-Star Break. He would begin August with a .329/.376/.466 season line.
The injury bug would bite Albert once more in 2013, though, as a bone bruise in his groin ended his season 3 games into August. Between his groin and wrist injuries, Almora would be on the field for only 61 games in his full-season debut, a dominant player in the midwest league when on the field, but dinged up frequently enough to begin whispers about durability.
As with all of the top prospects, plenty of scouting information available out there. Here's Baseball America's blurb from this year's Prospect Handbook, which ranked Almora as the system's #2 prospect:
Scouts say Almora has more polish and better makeup than any high schooler in recent memory. His tools are solid or better across the board too, so the Cubs selected him sixth overall in June and signed him for $3.9 million. It was no surprise that he was able to make an easy transition to pro ball, hitting .321/.331/.464 at the two lowest levels of the system. Thanks to his bat speed, loose swing and hand-eye coordination, Almora makes line-drive contact with ease. He has natural hitting rhythm and pitch-recognition skills beyond his years. He will need to develop more patience, however, after walking just twice in 145 pro plate appearances. He's not the most physical player, but he has the hitting acumen and projection to grow into annual 20-homer power. As gifted as he is offensively, scouts rave even more about Almora's defense. He has incredible instincts, allowing his average speed to play up a grade on the bases and well above that in center field. He gets outstanding jumps and takes precise routes. He also has a strong, accurate arm. A quality teammate, he has helped Cuban defector Jorge Soler with his English. Almora profiles as a Gold Glove center fielder who could hit third in the batting order. He'll be part of a very talented lineup at Chicago's new low Class A Kane County affiliate in 2013, and he might only need two years in the minors.
Baseball Prospectus was even higher on Almora, ranking him above even Baez:
Strengths: Well-rounded tool collection; feel for the game is outstanding and allows tools to play above grade; 5 arm; 5 run; 6 glove; future hit could be easy 6; excellent bat speed; gets into zone quickly and efficiently; power has above-average potential; shows advanced game skills; lauded for work ethic/makeup; now talent that could move fast.
Weaknesses: Range in CF is tied to read/react skills and instincts, not plus raw speed; lacks high-end physicality; lacks elite tools; upside isn’t as sexy as teammate Javier Baez; aggressive approach has yet to be tested; small professional sample
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division starter Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; more polished than the average teenager; shows advanced feel and instincts for the game; high floor; respectable ceiling; most likely falls short of star status.
The Year Ahead: Almora will most likely jump to full-season ball, where he will play the majority of the year as a 19-year-old. The highly praised hit tool will be tested by more advanced pitching, and the aggressive approach will need to refine to avoid exploitation. With now skills and advanced feel, Almora should continue to progress up the prospect ranks, and has a chance to emerge as a top tier player in the minors if the solid-average skill-set plays up beyond its projection. Major league ETA: 2016
There was also one other interesting thing I found while poking around the B-Pro preseason scouting articles, a line from Jason Parks about Almora's defense:
Not sure if the profile in CF looks in three-five years, and I'm not sure the bat is all that sexy in a corner, so I don't think he's a slam-dunk first-division guy at the highest level.
This was really interesting to me, as it's the first time anywhere I've seen doubts about Almora's ability to stick in center, or his ability to be a first-division MLB player. Upon seeing that, however, I'm a bit surprised we don't hear more doubts of this sort. Almora is not a speed demon, and, as already mentioned, relies heavily on his tremendous instincts to get to balls (a B-Pro Eyewitness Report by Nick Faleris on Almora said at one point that his "physical tools should not allow him to get to the balls he reaches"). Losing half a step could potentially drop him from a gold-glove caliber defender to merely solid; losing more could raise even more questions about his ability to stick at the position.
It was announced about a week ago that Almora was getting elevated to the full-time AFL roster instead of being relegated to weekend play on the taxi squad. That should prove a nice challenge for him, facing older competition and some of the best prospects in the game. 2014 should see Albert start the year in Daytona, with a focus on staying healthy for a full season and getting ~120 or so games worth of PAs under his belt. If he can avoid the nicks and dings that kept him off the field for so much of 2013, there's no reason why he shouldn't be in Tennessee by mid-season, as I don't personally expect the FSL to pose much of a challenge for him. That would put him on track for a 2015 major league arrival, where hopefully at least one of the Baez/Bryant/Soler group will already have established themselves as a productive talent and allow Almora's bat some breathing room to develop.
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