Albert Almora won't be playing in Chicago at all this September, but that doesn't mean the Cubs prospect didn't take major steps forward in 2014.
Almora, the first draft pick of Theo Epstein's front office (taken sixth overall in 2012), got off to a slow start with Advanced Class-A Daytona this season. He hit just .241 with a .582 OPS in his first 62 games with Daytona, a far cry from the .329/.376/.466 line he posted in 2013.
But from June 19 through late July, Almora went on a tear, hitting .373 with a .988 OPS in 27 games, including 14 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, five homers), 20 RBI and 25 runs.
It was enough to earn the 20-year-old outfielder a call-up to Double-A Tennessee, playing in a Southern League where the average age of the players is 24.5 years.
Almora only hit .234 in 36 games with Tennessee to close out the year, but believes he's taken steps forward during a trying season.
"It's been a really productive year," he told Smokies radio announcer Mick Gillispie. "I've had to deal with a lot of adversity - personal and on-field issues. I really feel like I grew up a lot this season.
"Going through bad series and bad months and being able to turn it around and start getting back on track, it's been my best year as a professional so far."
Up until this year, Almora has spent his entire life playing up a couple levels, playing with guys like Manny Machado as a teenager in South Florida and getting by on his natural ability.
But going through some adversity for the first time ever may have been just what he needed.
"I've been fortunate enough to do pretty well at what I do," he told Gillispie. "To struggle and have to learn how to get out of that and mature from that, it's a blessing."
In the two-plus years in the Cubs' system, Almora has impressed with his maturity and natural leadership skills, often being described as wise beyond his years.
When Gillispie asked Almora about how he gets out of slumps, the young centerfielder sounded like a 10-year veteran. He understands easing your mind may be the only way to get out of prolonged struggles at the plate.
"Sometimes, we think too much and that always gets in our way," Almora said.
Rated as the No. 36 prospect in the game in Baseball America's preseason rankings, Almora is part of the group of position players that has instilled so much positivity around the future of the Cubs.
Jorge Soler and Javier Baez are already in Chicago, going through the ups and downs alongside guys like Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez.
Meanwhile, Almora closed out the year trying to regain his foothold in the Cubs' system while Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber appear on the fast track to Wrigley Field.
Is this the group of guys that will finally end the 105-plus-year championship drought?
"We don't sit around and talk about breaking the curse," Almora told Gillispie. "We're just winning baseball games. We just go out there and play where we're at right now and play hard and when our time comes, that's when we'll think about that."