Cubs

Albert Almora made a strong impression in Cubs camp

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Albert Almora made a strong impression in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – If Albert Almora had gone to the University of Miami, he would just be starting his first full season in professional baseball.

That’s really not an excuse pushed by Theo Epstein’s front office. It’s a reality check for a Cubs organization spoiled by the lightning-quick development of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

“You have to realize that everybody’s different,” Almora said Friday at the Sloan Park complex. “I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Almora just found out that he was being assigned to minor-league camp, part of a round of cuts that sliced the spring roster to 36. But the first player drafted here by the Epstein administration took the news in stride, knowing he could be one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa at some point this season.

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Almora flashed enough highlight-reel defense in center field to show that he can play for Joe Maddon — a manager who really digs run prevention — and potentially replace Dexter Fowler in 2017.

“He’s turning into a complete player,” Maddon said. “He’s hit the ball well here. But beyond that, his defense has been great. His route-running has been really, really good. He can be impactful. His game is really elevated.”

The Cubs passed on Addison Russell with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft because they felt he had been out of shape in high school and questioned his ability to stick at shortstop. The Cubs looked at Almora as having a higher, sturdier floor after playing for Team USA and against elite competition while growing up in South Florida.

Russell wound up dropping to the Oakland A’s at No. 11 and becoming the headliner in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Russell bumped Starlin Castro off shortstop during a playoff run that never would have happened last year without first-round picks Bryant (2013) and Schwarber (2014).

Outside of No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa (the American League Rookie of the Year for the Houston Astros last season) and two fast-track college pitchers like Michael Wacha (No. 19, St. Louis Cardinals) and Marcus Stroman (No. 22, Toronto Blue Jays), the 2012 first-round class hasn’t really made its mark yet.

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Almora won’t turn 22 until April 16 — or feel left behind by the youth movement at Wrigley Field.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing, man,” Almora said. “Don’t change anything.”

Almora’s Cactus League impression last year didn’t carry over into an up-and-down season at Double-A Tennessee — .272 average, six homers, 46 RBI in 106 games — and he’s had issues with staying healthy throughout his career.

But the Cubs think Almora — the young kid who’s used to playing up a level or two — isn’t that far away from Wrigleyville now.

“He’s at that point where he believes he belongs here and he can do this,” Maddon said. “He’s been a good spring performer (before). The difference is when you talk to him, he’s not as wide-eyed about it. He’s just more comfortable here.”

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

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USA TODAY

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

Despite the MLB trade deadline being two months away, rumors of the Cubs potentially acquiring Orioles' shortstop Manny Machado have intensifed recently. Regardless, Cubs president Theo Epstein made his point on the rumor frenzy quite clear Thursday.

"I can say with regards to this particular spasm of media frenzy, it is outrageously outsized when you compare it to the reality of the situation," Epstein said Thursday on 670 The Score.

Machado is having an unbelievable season with the Orioles, hitting .328 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs entering Thursday. If traded, he would undoubtedly provide a boost to any ballclub, but that is a big "if."

Of course, the MLB season is not even two months old yet, which Epstein pointed out as being a big factor in the situation.

"It's May," he said. "We're still figuring out who we are as a team this year. We're still figuring out our place in the division.

"There's an atypical amount of trade discussion in May this year, which is essentially nil."

Rumors of the Cubs being a potential player in acquiring Machado make sense. At 15-34, the Orioles have the worst winning percentage (.306) in the MLB. With their current positioning, trading Machado could start a rebuild that the Orioles might just need. The Cubs have a 24-year-old shortstop in Addison Russell that the Orioles could acquire to a) replace Machado and b) use as the face of their rebuild.

Be that as it may, Epstein said the rumors are something that the Cubs are "just rolling our eyes at."

"I understand it's natural for people to connect the dots and there to be this kind of frenzy from time to time, but it's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at," he said. "It's not like July, where every now and then there's lots of coverage on deals that are actually being discussed or actually might happen.

"This one is just out there in fantasy land at this point."

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: