Almora making quite an impression with Kane County Cougars
By Mike Knapp For Sun-Times Media May 26, 2013 7:14PM
The Cougars' Albert Almora, shown ripping a two-run double last week against Beloit, had a tough Friday night at the plate against Cedar Rapids, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 28, 2013 6:42AM
When Beloit Snapper first baseman Matt Olson’s fly ball flared out into center field in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday night, Cougars center fielder Albert Almora gave chase, and from the deep recesses of his memory came something he needed in pursuit of the ball.
As a result, he charged the ball harder and made a spectacular diving catch for the second out of the inning. But he wasn’t done, as he scrambled to his feet and gunned a strike home to Willson Contreras, who put the tag on Bruce Maxwell to end the inning.
Almora then came up in the bottom of that inning and delivered a two-run double to tie the score, and in the seventh started the frame with a single and came in to score the game-winning run.
It all started on that one play on a fly ball and what he knew.
“Once I saw the ball in the air I remembered the ball hangs longer here in Chicago than it does in Arizona,” Almora said in reference to the humid air. “I was able to take some batting practice at Wrigley Field (last summer) and it was just from that experience. I feel like I’m a student of the game and I pick up on little things like that.”
It’s those kind of instincts and passion for the game that the Cubs saw in Almora when they made the Hialeah, Fla., native the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft and paid him a $3.9 million bonus. After hitting .321 in 33 games between Rookie League Arizona and short-season Boise, Almora’s 2013 season got off to a slow start when he broke the hamate bone in his left wrist just before spring training ended.
Slated to come north with the Cougars in April, he instead stayed behind until joining the team in Peoria on Wednesday night. In his five games in a Kane County uniform, he has 12 hits in 21 at-bats (.571 average) with five doubles, six runs and four RBI.
Considered the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Cubs organization and one of the top 40 in baseball, Almora, who turned 19 on April 16, has made an instant impression with his new team. A five-tool player, Almora has major league skills in center field and good speed on the basepaths.
Though he has just two homers in his pro career, many feel the power will come when he adds muscle to his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame.
“He brings that extra excitement to the lineup and the guys just feed off of him,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He’s picked the team up when we’ve needed it. It’s fun to be around. Since he came out of the womb almost he has wanted to play baseball and wants to be the best at it, and that’s what great players do.”
After spending weeks in Arizona rehabbing and playing extended spring training games, Almora is just happy to be at Kane County, playing meaningful games and being in the clubhouse mix with his teammates.
Facing a large media contingent for the first time after Saturday’s game, Almora took the typical ribbing from his teammate in stride, flashing a grin that could someday be a trademark.
“I love these guys. They are the best,” Almora said. “I’m just happy to be back.”
Despite all of the accolades and being thrown into the conversation as a Cub of the future along with guys such as Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, Almora is just focusing on one day at a time. Johnson said one thing he likes about Almora is he asks all the right questions and he understands that even for the best players the window to improve and advance is small. Taking advantage of that is what makes good players great.
“I just want to win, that and to stay healthy,” Almora said. “I just look at tomorrow because that’s all I control. My at-bats, my fielding, my running, that’s all I look forward to.”
If his pro career so far is any indication, he has a lot to look forward to.