Albert Almora Jr. could have spent 72 sulking or just getting his affairs in order after he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa last week. That’s how long players have to report in those situations, but Almora wasn’t about to take his time.
“You could look at it as two ways,” Almora told Tommy Birch and other media members prior to Tuesday’s game. “I could have been bitter and taken my three days and shown up straight to Iowa, coasted through things and hopefully at the end of September and get back up — whatever. Or I could have come with a purpose.”
That should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of who Almora is as a person. He’s always carried himself with equal parts humility and passion, which is a big part of the reason the Cubs front office made him their first-ever pick — and sixth overall — back in 2012 out of Mater Academy Charter.
And this isn’t the first time Almora has had to deal with be squeezed out of a role or demoted. The incumbent for the everyday center field role in 2017 after Dexter Fowler signed in St. Louis, Almora had to cede time to Ian Happ following the utilityman’s promotion. The season before, Almora was optioned back to Iowa just a month and a half after making his debut…and a day after getting married.
So he’s more than familiar with the drill and he knows that taking extra time isn’t going to help anyone involved.
“First off, it’s not fair to the guys here as well to play short and just wait on me just because I want to take my sweet time,” Almora explained. “I didn’t think that was right for them either. So, I wanted to come down and get to work.”
Though it almost certainly didn’t enter his mind at the time, it can’t hurt that the Iowa roster is filled with familiar faces. David Bote was demoted not long after Almora and showed up Tuesday night during the game. Daniel Descalso is playing there on a rehab stint and Ben Zobrist will be joining the I-Cubs this weekend for a pair of games.
But the real key for Almora is going to be taking advantage of everyday playing time in order to build his confidence and help him establish some consistency. While the burden for his performance falls squarely on his shoulders, it was pretty clear from the early going that he was not always being placed in optimal positions for success.
First and foremost, he’s not a leadoff hitter and should not have been deployed in that role even on a limited basis. He was also subjected to unfavorable matchups based on the supposition that the reversal of his traditionally pronounced platoon splits was merely the product of a small sample size. Those things can be hard to overcome with irregular playing time.
Regardless of the contributing factors, Almora has no other choice at this point but to make the most out of his new situation so that he can get back to Chicago to help the Cubs in September. In order to do that, he’s going to need to show more with both the bat and the glove than he did through the middle of August. That’s why he’s keeping his goals simple and just pushing forward the only way he knows how.
“The game of baseball doesn’t stop for anybody,” Almora said. “It doesn’t slow down for anybody. So, I just want to do my part and respect the game as much as possible and play the game hard.”