Cubs

Cubs attempting to tap into Albert Almora Jr.'s offensive upside

Cubs

PEORIA, Ariz. — What if Albert Almora Jr. became a really good big-league hitter?

Cubs fans might start salivating at the thought of that.

Almora has always been highly regarded as a Gold Glove-caliber defender in center field, but the jury isn't out yet on how productive he'll be as a hitter.

Almora — who turns 23 next month — has only a .738 OPS in five minor league seasons despite a .290 average. That's in part due to his low walk rate, but it's also buoyed down by a .416 slugging percentage.

He'll probably never walk a ton (that's just not his approach/style), but Almora did post a .455 slugging percentage in 47 games in the big leagues last season and the Cubs think there's more power to come.

"Albert's really showing why he's such a good baseball player," Joe Maddon said. "Him and the hitting coach have done a lot of good work. There's just a plane to his swing itself; he gets the ball in the air more easily now.

"Beyond that, he's such a good baseball player: He's such a good outfielder, throws well, he's a good baserunner — you saw the tag-up last year [in the World Series]. 

"But more than anything, what makes him play right now is the adjustments they made in the swing, where it's a much more functional big-league swing and there's more power in it."

Almora tripled off the right-field wall in the fifth inning of Friday's 11-10 loss to the Seattle Mariners, missing a home run by just a few feet. (Of course, Almora also made a really nice catch running toward the wall in left-center to rob Kyle Seager of extra bases.)

 

Prior to Friday, Almora hadn't played since Sunday as he was nursing a sore calf. But he hit a grand slam and doubled in that last game, making it four extra-base knocks this spring, including his last three hits.

Maddon believes he's seeing a different Almora this spring, as the Cubs manager used one of his go-to sayings — "He's more comfortable in his big-league skin" — to describe the difference in a young player's confidence. 

"None of what he's doing surprises me," Maddon said. "I just think he's finally arriving."

[RELATED - How Albert Almora Jr. became a part of the World Series puzzle for Cubs]

Almora has always believed in himself and the abilities and intangibles that helped make him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.

But even he admits this spring — and this year — is different.

"I don't feel like it's anything to do with my swing. My swing is the same; it's just little things mentally that transition out physically," Almora said. "For me, it's all been confidence.

"I came in this spring with my confidence at an all-time high. I'm just having a lot of fun working, learning new routines that work for myself and just going out there and letting it eat."

Almora couldn't point to specifics in his routine that have helped him tap into his offensive potential more, but believes it's everything from his tee work to batting practice to where he's standing in the box.

And don't discount the impact of the experience he garnered in the Cubs' road to the championship last fall.

"I've always been comfortable in myself, but now, after we won, I was able to see that my expectations for myself personally are over the top," Almora said. "I feel like personally, there's a lot more improvement for myself of the player I can become.

"So it's going out there and play, let it happen. It's pretty simple."