Why Cubs chose Albert Almora Jr. for playoff roster

Why Cubs chose Albert Almora Jr. for playoff roster

The Cubs chose Albert Almora Jr. in the middle of a 101-loss season, making him the first player drafted by the Theo Epstein regime. The Cubs used that sixth overall pick in 2012 on a teenager they saw with a high floor, someone who represented Team USA and grew up in South Florida playing year-round against elite competition.

Flash-forward and the Cubs are now a 103-win team, validating their belief in Almora again when they unveiled their 25-man roster for this National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants.  

“He’s definitely not going to be afraid,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday night’s Game 1 at Wrigley Field. “He’s definitely going to relish the moment. He’s looking for that moment. He’s not going to run away from it. 

“He’s young and he hasn’t been here very long. But when you talk to this fellow – you look him in the eye – there is no hesitation on his part. All of us felt very comfortable about putting him there.”

The Cubs believe Almora has the potential to someday become a Gold Glove outfielder. This is the next step in a year where he turned 22, made his big-league debut, got married, became a father and worried about his own father’s battle with prostate cancer.

[RELATED - Cubs set 25-man roster for NLDS against Giants]       

Almora split this season between Triple-A Iowa and The Show, hitting .277 with a .763 OPS in 47 games for the Cubs, but this move revolves around run prevention in October. Almora’s emergence sidelined Matt Szczur – who is five years older and has played in 140 more big-league games – for at least this playoff round. Szczur – a solid role player and another right-handed hitter – batted .259 with a .712 OPS in 200 plate appearances this season. 

“We just think that Albert’s a really good defender,” Maddon said. “He’s also been swinging the bat well lately. You can’t take that away from Albert, regardless of age, whatever, or how long one guy’s been here during the year or not.

“We just thought moving it forward – the kind of talent we’re going to need or skill set we’re going to need at the end of the game – Albert fit in pretty well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]   

The Cubs indulged Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to the minors because he has a specific skill, and he made this roster as a left-handed contact hitter off the bench. X-factor outfielder Jorge Soler (tightness on his right side) has been cleared for the playoffs. Two niche relievers with postseason experience (Trevor Cahill and Joe Smith) and a 15-game winner (Jason Hammel) didn’t get a spot on an 11-man pitching staff.  

“They’re not easy (decisions), but it also speaks to depth,” Maddon said. “The driving thought was whether you wanted one more pitcher or one more position player, so we just chose to go with one more position player. It’s a five-game series: Play, play, day off, play, play, day off, so your pitchers have a chance to regroup in those moments.”

As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus


As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus

With less than a week until Opening Day, the Cubs' roster is all but set.

Joe Maddon told reporters in Arizona Friday the Cubs will roll with eight relievers to open the season, which doesn't come as any surprise. 

Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving Eddie Butler and Shae Simmons as the two most likely guys to take the final bullpen spot.

Butler, 27, is out of minor-league options, which means if the Cubs do not keep him on their big-league roster, they risk losing him on waivers. Simmons still has two options remaining.

Butler also represents more starting pitching depth for the team beyond their five-man rotation and Mike Montgomery. Theo Epstein's front office likes to enter a season with 8-10 starting pitching options in case of injury, so it'd be hard to see the team getting rid of their No. 7 guy on that depth chart.

This spring, Butler has pitched 10 innings over five games with a 4.50 ERA and five strikeouts. He made 11 starts and two bullpen appearances with the 2017 Cubs, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Simmons, 27, signed with the Cubs as a free agent Feb. 16 and pitched nine games with the Seattle Mariners last year. He's appeared in four games for the Cubs this spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with five strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

In carrying eight relievers, that only leaves one position player spot available (backup catcher). Outfielder Peter Bourjos is expected to start the season in the minor leagues.

Veteran backstop Chris Gimenez will probably get the nod on the big-league roster over youngster Victor Caratini.

Gimenez comes with experience and a knowledge and relationship with Yu Darvish and we do have confirmation Darvish is making the Opening Day roster:

The Cubs really like Caratini and he's arguably their top position player prospect, but at age 24, he needs to play every day and see regular at-bats, which he wouldn't get backing up Willson Contreras in Chicago.

With that, here's the projected Cubs' Opening Day roster:


Willson Contreras
Chris Gimenez


Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Javy Baez
Tommy La Stella
Ben Zobrist


Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber
Albert Almora Jr.
Jason Heyward

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Yu Darvish
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood


Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Brian Duensing
Mike Montgomery
Eddie Butler

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Atlanta Braves

2017 record: 72-90, 3rd place in NL East

Offseason additions: Preston Tucker, Charlie Culberson, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Peter Moylan, Chase Whitley, Grant Dayton, Chris Stewart, Anibal Sanchez

Offseason departures: Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, Jason Motte, Matt Adams

X-factor: Ozzie Albies

One of the youngest players in the league, Albies just turned 21 in January. He carries with him the pedigree of the game's No. 11 overall prospect entering last season and got his first taste of big-league life toward the end of 2017.

He hit well, posting a .286 average and .810 OPS while showing an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and providing some pop and speed.

Assuming he can avoid any sophomore slump and take another step forward, the Braves could actually surprise some people this year. But without Albies providing Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman some lineup support until a certain phenom gets to town, it's hard to see Atlanta contending.

Projected lineup

1. Ender Inciarte - CF
2. Ozzie Albies - 2B
3. Freddie Freeman - 1B
4. Tyler Flowers - C
5. Nick Markakis - RF
6. Preston Tucker - LF
7. Dansby Swanson - SS
8. Rio Ruiz - 3B

Projected rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Foltynewicz
3. Brandon McCarthy
4. Sean Newcomb
5. Scott Kazmir


The Braves are coming, you guys. 

Maybe not now, but they'll be here soon enough.

2018 will feature growing pains for a young group of up-and-comers including the aforementioned Albies, plus Tucker (a powerful outfielder acquired from the Astros), Swanson (the 2015 No. 1 overall pick who's since fallen on tough times) and Newcomb.

Oh and there's some guy named Ronald Acuna coming up next. You may have heard of him.

The 20-year-old phenom has absolutely torn the cover off the ball everywhere he's gone the last 14 or so months and we'll see the game's No. 1 overall prospect in the big leagues in mid-April, God willing.

Once Acuna does come, it adds another level to a lineup that frankly comes up a bit short right now, even with Freeman (one of the best hitters in baseball) and Inciarte (one of the game's most underrated players). 

The Braves have a solid bullpen, plenty of rotation depth and a decent bench. It wouldn't be shocking to see them challenge for the second wild card spot, but true contention will probably come in 2019 for this bunch.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves