Cubs

The Cubs are seeing the real Albert Almora Jr. right now

The Cubs are seeing the real Albert Almora Jr. right now

This is who Albert Almora Jr. is as a player right now.

He's the guy with video game instincts who defies gravity to take away runs from the other team, as he did Wednesday night in Atlanta:

He's also the guy who expanded the zone and struck out in the 5th and 7th innings of the Cubs' 4-1 loss, the latter whiff coming on two nasty sliders low and away — the Achilles' heel for the young outfielder.

Those two at-bats — particularly the last one — are why Almora still won't play every single day and why Joe Maddon and the Cubs are going to continue to pick their spots with him against right-handed pitchers.

But the Cubs can live with those strikeouts when Almora is flashing Gold Glove caliber plays on what seems like an everyday basis.

Almora entered the day with a sizeable lead in Major League Baseball in "Good Fielding" catches, per Sports Info Solutions and only added to that total with yet another jaw-dropping play:

We've come to expect excellent defense from Almora, but it's safe to say he's taken things to another level this year. 

Why?

Because he's playing with a chip on his shoulder and a swagger only bested by Javy Baez (who is the King of Swag on the Cubs, of course).

After he made that ridiculous catch Wednesday night in Atlanta, Almora did a little hat-tip and was sure to catch his own replay on the video board.

You might also have noticed he seems to yell at the wall when he tracks a ball down in the gap — a guttural release to let out his adrenaline and to remind that pesky wall that he's not afraid of it.

After a particularly thrilling catch near the wall at Wrigley earlier this season, Almora screamed at the ivy-covered brick and said, "Not today."

"You can tell he's been himself when he's being aggressive on defense," Theo Epstein said at the beginning of the month about his first draft pick in the Cubs front office. "His first couple years, he was a good defender but he didn't play with quite the same conviction and aggressiveness in center field as he did in the minor leagues.

"So you can tell he's feeling really comfortable with his role and his spot in the big leagues by how he's going to get the ball, how he's finishing the plays at the end of his range.

"That's always who he was, way back to high school. He's always the guy who would make plays on balls you wouldn't think he could get to. He would find ways to stay involved defensively — throwing behind runners, leaving his feet, making the play.

"He did that in spurts the first couple years and now you've seen it really consistently. And that's him, he's a guy who does a lot like that night and night out."

But why was Almora tentative?

"I think it's natural for young players," Epstein said. "He's played a position — outfield — where we've had a lot of talented players, so sometimes you can be afraid to make a mistake and then not play for a few days. It's just natural for a young player breaking in with a good team."

When asked about Epstein's comments, a little smile crept across Almora's face.

"That's a great statement," he said. "Yeah, absolutely. I felt like last year, I played a little conservative. It wasn't me out there. This is what I've been doing all my life and we had a conversation in spring and they challenged me to be myself and be the Albert that they know and saw growing up in high school.

"And I said, 'consider it done.' If you're giving me that leeway of letting me be myself, then I'm gonna do that."

Almora has always had an extreme confidence in his own abilities and in his Cubs team, but this year, he seems different.

He's become a go-to guy in the clubhouse for the media, always ready with an upbeat, fiery statement — a la the aforementioned "consider it done" he told the front office.

In his own way, he's become a leader in just his second full year in the big leagues, though that shouldn't be a shock to anybody given Almora idolized "The Captain" Derek Jeter growing up and was always seen as a leader at every stage throughout the Cubs farm system.

Offensively, he still has some strides to make, but he's already shown a great leap in development this season by bumping his walk rate up to a very respectable 8.5 percent.

He still mashes lefties and struggles with some righties, but if he can keep making plays in the outfield, it will get easier and easier for Maddon to pencil his name in the lineup on a daily basis.

Because remember, Almora is unchained now.

"It's tough to explain," Almora said. "I just went out there and said, 'Hey, be you.' I can't put into detail what I'm doing now.

"I'm just having a lot more fun playing — and I had a lot of fun last year, so I dunno. I'm just trying to [catch] everything."

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of the teams interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The 5-time All-Star will be holding a workout soon, with Chicago being one of the six teams reported to have a scout present at his workout.

Heyman did mention that while the Cubs aren’t necessarily the favorites right now, we will know how good of a chance they will have soon. Tulowitzki and his team are reported to be narrowing down their list to (at least) 6 teams.

Last season Tulowitzki played 66 games for the Blue Jays, batting .249 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. For his career he is a .290 hitter and is looking for a bounce-back season after dealing with complications from bone spur injuries in both heels over the years.

Toronto has to pay the $38 million left on Tulowitzki's contract, freeing up other teams to sign the veteran to a more reasonable deal. Since the Blue Jays went the route of cutting him, teams can offer Tulowitzki a league minimum salary.

For the Cubs, he represents-however small-a chance to extract great value from a veteran player, which would be a big bonus considering how the Yu Darvish signing backfired in year one.

Tulowitzki is likely to be searching for playing time on a legit title contender, so if he can provide any solid offensive production going forward, he and the Cubs could be a solid match.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

When nothing happens in Vegas, it stays in Vegas. Luke, Kap and Tony talk about the Cubs lack of moves during the Winter Meetings.

In this episode of the Cubs Talk Podcast with Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki:

00:10 - What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas and this year that means nothing. Luke, Kap & Tony talk Cubs lack of moves at Winter Meetings.

00:50 - Where the heck is all the money? This was supposed to be a wide-open window - we step on the accelerator.

01:25 - Cubs keep throwing money at the problem (Chatwood, Darvish) and it has become a cautionary tale.

02:50 - Are the Cubs playing at the shallow end of the kiddie pool?

03:50 - Tony talks about the volatility of the relief market.

05:15 - Where is the bullpen market? Brewers are making moves, but it's still "crickets" for the Cubs.

06:20 - Tony: Other than bullpen - Cubs have to address backup middle infielder most of all.

06:57 - Daniel Descalso rumors. Kap describes him as a grinder who fits the leadership mold.

07:47 - Luke is a little worried about Steve Cishek. He threw a career-high 70 innings last season.

09:34 - The guys talk about the possibility of a "second deadline" for the Winter Meetings to force clubs to make more moves.

11:06 - Luke: "I wanted to see Machado and Harper walking down the strip and making it rain!"

12:45 - Cubs still have so much to address. Some Cubs fans are starting to get a little itchy. Teams in the division are making moves. What about us?

14:45 - Question: Is Anthony Rizzo the third-best 1st baseman in the Central Division?

15:50 - Prediction time: What's biggest move the Cubs will make before opening day? Kap believes that Ian Happ will not be a Cub before the regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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