Cubs prospect Almora brings 'stabilizing' presence to organization

Cubs prospect Almora brings 'stabilizing' presence to organization
May 31, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

As the Cubs are focused on the No. 2 pick in the MLB Draft -- now less than a week away -- the organization's top pick from last year is hitting his stride.

Albert Almora, the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft, missed almost all of the first two months of the season after a broken hamate bone in his left hand, but made his debut with Single-A Kane County last week and didn't waste any time getting into a groove.

Almora, 19, got off to a torrid start, collecting at least one hit in each of his first six games while giving the Cougars a much-needed shot in the arm.

[RELATED: Cubs top prospect Almora shines in home debut]

"He's a 24-, 25-year-old in a 19-year-old's body as far as knowing the game and the way he goes about it," Kane County manager Mark Johnson said. "His overall game is just way beyond his years. Now he just needs to play and get some experience under his belt.

"He gets it. He understands what he needs to do to get better and advance."

Through his first 30 plate appearances, Almora is hitting .519/.567/.704 with five doubles, four RBI, six runs and a 2:2 walk:strikeout ratio, earning the Midwest League player of the week honor.

But less than a week after his season debut, the young center fielder was sidelined once again -- this time with a hamstring injury -- and is considered day-to-day with a return possible this weekend.

The second injury hiccup in the season's first half is rough luck for a kid that has a bounce in his step reminiscent of a super ball on steroids.

There's a story that has made its rounds at Kane County about how Almora was so anxious to get back on the field, he tossed his glove on the other hand and was shagging fly balls in the outfield the day after his broken hamate bone was surgically removed.

[MORE -- The Foundation: The story of the 2013 Kane County Cougars]

"There's no good to come out of [being sidelined with an injury]," Almora said. "You're not playing, you're not improving yourself, you're not helping the team win.

"It's nothing good. As a baseball player, my mind was going crazy."

Some people make a career in this game simply because they're good at it. That's not the case for Almora. After just a few minutes of watching him play, it's evident Almora's enthusiasm and passion is not manufactured.

"When I was a kid, it ran in my veins," he said. "Me and my dad, it was just baseball, baseball all the time. It's something I've lived with every day of my life.

"The first things I wore were baseball stuff. It's been with me ever since I was born."

[THE FOUNDATION: Cougars still learning 'The Cubs Way']

Almora is a self-proclaimed student of the game. The Hialeah, Fla., native has spent most of his baseball career playing in warm weather and took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates when he complained about the "cold" weather in Kane County last Saturday, on a 60-degree day in the Chicagoland area.

During his Cougars home debut on that "chilly" day, Almora was playing a deep center field for Beloit's Matt Olson, the 47th overall pick in the 2012 Draft. Olson hit a shallow pop fly to center, and Almora came racing in to make a diving catch before gunning a runner out at home.

When asked about the play after the game, Almora said he knew the ball hangs up a lot more in Illinois than it does in Arizona (where he was playing in extended spring training games), so he simply didn't give up on the play. In only his fourth game playing in Illinois, he had already grasped the lay of the land.

"He's great. He's a pro. He's young, but he goes about his business like a 24-, 25-year-old that's been playing the game for a long time," Johnson said. "With all the international experience and the big games he's played in at a young age, it has really helped his development.

"He's mature beyond his years and he's great in the clubhouse. He's kind of a stabilizer. We have a number of Latin players and it helps because he's fluent in both [English and Spanish]. He's a real bonus in the clubhouse."

It didn't take long for Almora to assimilate in the Cougars' clubhouse, as his teammates had a lot of fun distracting him during postgame interviews last Saturday. Almora finished 2012 with short-season Boise, where he was part of the Hawks' playoff run and played with a number of current Cougars players, including 2011 second-round draft pick Dan Vogelbach.

"He's really, really self-motivated," Vogelbach said. "He's going to succeed wherever he goes. It's just the way he goes about his business.

"He plays with that little swag that you need to be a great ballplayer. Some people call it cocky, but I call it confidence. He knows he's good and when he goes out to the park, he's a guy you definitely want on your team."

Almora's idol is Derek Jeter, the Yankees shortstop who was also taken sixth overall (in the '92 Draft) and has totaled more than 3,300 hits in a Hall of Fame career that has included five World Series Championships.

Almora has a one-track mind, focusing one day at a time but for a moment before his Cougars home debut, he allowed himself to think further down the road. The wiry, 6-foot-3 outfielder admitted he envisions spending his entire career with the Chicago Cubs, like Jeter has with the Yankees.

[THE FOUNDATION: Hope drives the 2013 Kane County Cougars]

Almora admits he can't fully grasp what a World Series would truly mean to the Cubs fanbase and city of Chicago, but knows it's something he wants to be involved in.

"It's something you look forward to when you wake up, like 'man I'm gonna be part of something great,'" he said.

"It makes me work harder and harder every day to know that one day, I'm going to have that ring on my finger and it's gonna be history."