Whenever I see Albert Almora Jr. baseballing, one word lights up in my brain: Natural. The first draft pick of this Cubs front office seemingly glides through the outfield and effortlessly slams pitches deep into the bleachers. Enthusiastically cheering on his teammates and expressing genuine joy for the game only adds to his bosses’ belief that the center fielder can become a premier player. During his exit interview, Theo Epstein ensured Almora that he will have a bigger role in 2018.
“You will have more responsibility,” Epstein told the young hitter. “You will have more of a role than you had this year. We’ll see how much more that is, and what you can grow into.”
We can imagine that Almora would only receive more responsibility if he starts to hit right-handed pitching with the same authority as he does southpaws.
“The real key for Albert,” Epstein said, “and his future development and what will dictate whether he reaches his very high ceiling or not is his ability to have really good, consistent at-bats against right-handed pitching.”
Almora’s .334 wOBA last year was impressive for a rookie and I certainly don’t want to lose sight of this easily overlooked fact. Most of the runs He produced, however, were against lefty pitchers, as the Cubs president noted. Almora hit lefties to the tune of a .386 wOBA while walking and striking out at 10.4 and 13.6 percent, respectively. Those are some vintage Ben Zobrist numbers right there.
The key will be improving his performance against righties. Only walking in three percent of all plate appearances against said group reflects his need to adapt. It was this type of undisciplined approach that led to a .301 wOBA and 81 wRC+ against opposing northpaws.
Despite poor overall numbers against right-handed pitchers, the 23-year-old showed signs of adapting as the season progressed. So much improvement, in fact, that I’m sort of giddy about his prospects in 2018. Epstein might be just as optimistic as me.
“[Almora] made really nice strides against right-handed pitching as the year went on,” said Epstein. “This kid worked so hard using the slider machine, just seeing slider after slider after slider in the cage.”
This could be fun.