The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.
In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.
First home run of the spring for Albert 💪 pic.twitter.com/GiFUykUjSl— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 24, 2020
In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.
Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.
Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:
Here is a look at one of Almora’s 2019 swings.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 24, 2020
He felt he had to be perfect last year in order to be on time. Goal of new setup is to be more consistently on time and allowing him room for adjusting with the pitch.
“It’s more time to react. I’m calmer.” pic.twitter.com/BW7zKMrjKd
Albert Almora Jr. told reporters at the start of camp that his swing would be “visibly different” this spring. Here’s what we saw in his setup in Game 1: more upright, less open, reduced leg kick, less rotational in gather portion.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 24, 2020
“I was testing you. You passed,” Almora said. pic.twitter.com/4hKvBPI6tw
As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.
Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.
Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.
ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks were always going to be sellers leading up to the NHL trade deadline, but the real question was to what degree? Chicago got its answer on Monday.
After a quiet morning, the Blackhawks struck two deals in the final hour: Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a third-round pick in 2020 and, more notably, Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round selection in 2020, goaltender Malcolm Subban and defenseman prospect Slava Demin. The Blackhawks also retained 50 percent of Lehner's salary in a complicated three-way deal that saw Toronto eat 44 percent of that for a fifth-round pick in 2020 to help Vegas become cap compliant.
And the immediate impressions on the return? Pretty underwhelming. But, at the same time, the market played a big role in that and it didn't favor the Blackhawks by any stretch.
The Carolina Hurricanes had two first-round picks and were as desperate a team as ever to acquire a goaltender at the deadline after relying on a 42-year-old Zamboni driver to get them through their last game. No doubt the Blackhawks were hoping to land at least a first-rounder for Lehner, but if the Hurricanes weren't biting on that price tag, neither was anyone else.
Six first-round picks were traded in February and not one of them was moved for a rental player. Five of those skaters had term left on their contract and the other signed a long-term extension after the trade, which helped justify it.
The reality is, the decision came down to whether the Blackhawks wanted to risk letting Lehner walk for nothing this summer or take the best offer on the table and just accept they won't get 100 cents on the dollar, especially if they weren't seeing eye to eye on a potential extension, and they chose the latter. Whether the Blackhawks should've re-signed Lehner is a separate discussion, but both sides could always revisit things on July 1 if they choose.
It's also difficult for Chicago to get excited about the return for Gustafsson after several similar-type impact defensemen were traded last week for more than that, and rightfully so. Did the Blackhawks wait too long to move him? Probably. But he wasn't going to fetch much on his own to begin with, and you have to wonder how hard the Blackhawks tried to package Gustafsson with another asset to help sweeten the deal and get the first-round pick they were looking for.
There's a large portion of the fanbase that felt Gustafsson should've been dealt in the summer when his value was highest after he turned in a breakout 60-point campaign. And that's fair. But the Blackhawks were hoping to make the playoffs this season and subtracting a key piece from their roster wasn't something that would've aligned with those goals.
In the end, the Blackhawks went into trade deadline day hoping to recoup some draft picks and prospects and continue building from within. They did that.
But the expectation in Chicago was this could've served as a prime opportunity to restock the pipeline with future assets and get fans excited about the retooling process. And while the Blackhawks didn't exactly strike out, they didn't hit a home run, either.
"The goal was to try to get some asset value in return for them and we certainly did that," GM Stan Bowman said in a conference call. "Going into a period like this at the trade deadline, you have to try to manage your assets going forward. When you have expiring assets and you talk around the league to teams and find out if there’s interest in them, then you do your best to try and get the maximum return you can. "
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