Prospect Watch: Almora emerging as a natural leader for Cubs

Prospect Watch: Almora emerging as a natural leader for Cubs
February 6, 2014, 6:45 pm
Tony Andracki

Albert Almora has a straightforward solution for all the pressure facing this group of top prospects: Win.

Almora had that one-word answer ready to go when a fan stepped to the microphone during last month’s Cubs Convention and asked how the organization's young players will deal with the lofty expectations.

[Cubs Prospect Watch: Kris Bryant ignores the hype]

It's that simple for the first draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime in Chicago: Winning solves everything.

Almora grew up idolizing Derek Jeter and displays some of the same natural leadership abilities as the New York Yankees captain. He acted as a translator between the fans asking questions in English at the convention and the prospects answering in Spanish. His minor-league coaches have called him a stabilizing presence in the locker room.

[The Foundation: Almora brings 'stabilizing' presence to organization]

"As a young prospect, he is probably the most polished, well-rounded, mature player," Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison said. "He's only 19. He's dealt with being the youngest guy at every level, everywhere he's played.

"He's a true professional. His work ethic, desire and commitment to be the best major-leaguer he can is unrivaled by anyone. He's a truly special kid on and off the field."

After starring in the Arizona Fall League (.307 average in 21 games), Almora will get another chance to showcase his talent against top competition in big-league camp, where he will once again be one of the youngest players.

[Prospect Watch: Pierce Johnson making Cubs take notice]

At this point, Almora — who turns 20 in April — is used to being the new kid on the block.

"It's a challenge," he said. "They're throwing me in here for a reason. They believe in my ability and they believe in what I'm capable of doing on a baseball field.

"I took it to heart [in the AFL] and I showed them they made the right decision for letting me be on a field with that great group of guys. I feel like I had a great fall.

"It's still a challenge to a certain point, but it's still the same game. The other players may be older, but they still have to throw it around the plate and I still have a chance to hit it."

Almora, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, said he picked up a lot during his first full year in the Cubs organization.

[MORE: Cubs will get look at future with Baez, Bryant, Almora in camp]

A pair of injuries -- a broken hamate bone on his first swing in spring camp and then a groin injury that caused him to miss the season's final month -- served as bookends to his year in Class-A Kane County. But one of the things he learned was the mindset to work through injuries and grow as a player, even if he wasn't able to step between the foul lines.

"I take it like a bump in the road," he said. "Life isn't a straight road. You have to take your bumps and bruises.

"It's more mentally tough than physically. It was like 'Alright, this is my body telling me I have to learn how to balance rather than going hard all the time.'"

Everywhere he's gone, Almora has impressed those around him with his maturity and intangibles. He got a late start to his 2013 season with Kane County, but instantly emerged as a clubhouse leader when he joined the team in late May.

"Albert Almora was really special," Cougars general manager Curtis Haug said. "He showed us consistently on the field that he belonged, but it was even more impressive off the field. The way he carried himself, the way he conducted himself with the fans, it was just consistently first class. He was the first guy to sign autographs postgame and the first guy to sign up for youth baseball clinics.

"He immediately became a leader and an example. He's your bonus baby, your first-round pick, and yet he comes in and he's willing to do all the little things that are important to the organization."

Almora has been ranked among the game's top prospects since the day he was drafted, but understands he will have to earn every promotion he gets along his road to the big leagues.

[MORE: Prospect rankings provide more hope for the future]

The kid from South Florida has had no trouble buying into The Cubs Way. Of course, Almora dreams of playing at Wrigley Field in October in front of 40,000 screaming fans. For him, it all comes back to winning.

"There are some places where you go and it's like 'Man, this is business, I'm going to keep to myself.' Here, it's family. You're open, you talk to whoever," Almora said. "You don't have to be shy. This is a brotherhood.

"From the front office all the way down to our coaches and bat boys, everybody is a family. Everybody has one goal in mind and that's to win a World Series.

"You always think about how it's going to be. But as much as I want it to happen, when it happens, it's going to be nothing like I thought.

"Everything is going to be completely different. The fans are going to be 10 times crazier than what I'm even thinking right now. You can't put it into words."