Cubs hoping Arismendy Alcantara can hit the reset button in 2016


Cubs hoping Arismendy Alcantara can hit the reset button in 2016

Whatever happened to Arismendy Alcantara?

Once one of the more dynamic young players in the organization, Alcantara was nowhere to be found during the “Rock Star Rookies” session at last weekend’s Cubs Convention.

Instead, the panel featured Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber - all guys who began an unbelievable 2015 season in the minor leagues while Alcantara made the Opening Day roster and played against the St. Louis Cardinals that night on national TV.

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After making a strong impression during a 70-game audition with the Cubs in 2014, Alcantara managed only two hits in 11 big-league games last season, hitting .077 and showing none of the extra-base power that made him such an interesting prospect.

That April, the Cubs sent Alcantara down to Triple-A Iowa, where he remained for the rest of the season. He struggled after the demotion, posting a .231/.285/.399 slash line in 120 games, a steep drop-off from the .307/.353/.537 slash line he put up against Triple-A pitching in 2014.

"After coming up two years ago and injecting a lot of talent and impact, he had a really big setback last year in terms of just confidence," said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. "He was (there) Opening Day, got out to a really tough start and I think never got out of that spiral last year.

"One thing he always did was get on the fastball coming up. If you threw him a heater, he was going to get on it and hit it really hard. Last year, I think he started doubting himself and he was so worried about the offspeed pitches that now he was behind the heater and he was caught in between."

In spring training, Joe Maddon ran with the questions about Alcantara becoming a version of Ben Zobrist, the manager’s favorite super-utility guy with the Tampa Bay Rays.

But Alcantara didn’t adjust well to the idea of moving all over the field and started to look a little lost. It’s an extremely difficult job, which helps explain why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million deal this winter.   

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Still, Alcantara is only 24 and a switch-hitter who has flashed an intriguing blend of power, speed and on-base skills while playing shortstop and second base.

Can Alcantara rebound and become a part of the franchise’s future again?

"He's still young enough and talented enough that he can kind of put that one on the backburner," McLeod said. "Forget about 2015 and come out and start fresh this year."

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."