Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?


Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?

MLB The Show 18 apparently is not high on too many Cubs and White Sox players entering the 2018 season.

Thursday, Playstation released the Top 10 players in MLB The Show 18 position-by-position. Of the 10 positional groups (including starting and relief pitchers), only five Chicago players are included in the Top 10 at their respecitve positions (three Cubs, two White Sox). 

Kris Bryant is highest ranked Cub and the third-best third baseman in the game with an 86 rating. Anthony Rizzo is ranked as the third-best first baseman with an overall rating of 85, while Willson Contreras is ranked as the fourth-best catcher with a rating of 83.

For the White Sox, Jose Abreu is ranked the eighth-best first baseman with an 82 rating, while Avisail Garcia (79 rating) is ranked the ninth-best right fielder. 

The Chicago player rankings are quite odd in comparison to other players ranked in the Top 10 at their various positions. For example, Jose Reyes (79 rating) is ranked as the 10th best shortstop in the game. Reyes is a .286 career hitter, but he is coming off of a season in which he hit .246 in 501 at-bats.

While Addison Russell had a down year in 2017 (.239/.304/.418), it seems safe to say that he is a better player than Reyes at this point. And even if Russell is not worthy of a Top 10 ranking, there is a case to be made for other shorstops (i.e. Zack Cozart, Brandon Crawford, Jean Segura) to be ranked above Reyes.

Similarly, Kris Bryant's 86 rating is quite low considering that he was rated 94 in MLB The Show 17. While his home run and RBI totals both decreased slightly from 2016, Bryant still put together an all-around great 2017 season. He led MLB third basemen in walks (95) and runs (111) while also producing a slash line of .295/.409/.537.

Ultimately, the ratings and overall rankings must be put into perspective. Mike Trout's rating (93) is the highest in the game, yet even he experienced a drop from his 99 rating in MLB The Show 17. 

The ratings for Bryant, Rizzo and Abreu seem low, but Nolan Arenado (90) leads all third basemen, while Joey Votto (87) is best among first basemen. Basically, the various Cubs and White Sox players are not rated too far behind the best.

Here are the complete position-by-position rankings for MLB The Show 2018:

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff


Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff

Between more power in the rotation and more strike-throwing in the bullpen, the Cubs were decisive in how they wanted to remake their pitching staff entering the 2018 season.

GM Jed Hoyer sits down with David Kaplan to explain the thought process of the front office over the winter.

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below.