Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

albert almora cubsCubs’ fans have enjoyed a remarkable progression of offensive prospects in recent years.

We watched Anthony Rizzo turn Triple A into his own personal home run derby before he moved to the majors to put the final layers of polish on his game.

We watched Jorge Soler finally get healthy and post ridiculous numbers in Double A and Triple A last year, and then go on to make the majors.

We watched Javier Baez flash as much promise as any hitter in the game today before returning to Iowa to make his adjustments (just as Rizzo did a few years before him).

We watched Kris Bryant inflate ERAs across the minors, and then prove to be better than we expected as a third baseman in the majors.

We watched Kyle Schwarber slug his way into making a short taste of Chicago into a permanent assignment.

We watched Addison Russell distract us with amazing glove work while his bat tantalized with hints of the potency to come.

All of these guys (when healthy) went through the farm system like a rocket, reaching the major leagues very quickly and leaving just shock waves behind.

But while we were dazzled by those rocketing prospects, I think in many cases our expectations for prospects in general rose to unrealistic levels. We are now at the point were the rockets have left the system. With the exception of Baez, who should return to the majors in a few weeks at the latest, all these players have existed the farm system. It is certainly possible that another super-prospect may appear (and I can hear you thinking ‘Gleyber Torres’, don’t bother denying it), but for now what the Cubs have are prospects. Lots of prospects.

And if we re-calibrate our prospect-o-meters back to normal, I think we’ll find that some of these more typical prospects are actually pretty good.

For example, when viewed on his own merits and not on the standard of Bryant or Schwarber, it turns out that Albert Almora is actually doing pretty well.

More on that after a survey of the standings.

Standings Watch

Iowa : 63-51, 2nd place.

We have a division race. After a couple of months of sitting on a huge divisional lead, Oklahoma City is coming back to the pack right when Iowa is playing some of their best baseball of the season. The result? Iowa is now in second place, half a game up on Omaha, and just four games behind Oklahoma City. The Cubs have won three in a row and and nine of their last ten.

This week Iowa finishes off their series with Omaha and then welcomes Nashville for four games. On Saturday they start a Western road trip in Las Vegas.

Tennessee : 20-21, 3rd place.

The Smokies have also been playing some good baseball lately, but they remain six games behind Birmingham in the division. Their home record is quite good (12-7), but the road history is still dragging them down (8-14).

The Smokies have three more against Jackson at home to open the week, and then hit the road for Chattanooga.

Myrtle Beach : 25-18, 2nd place.

The Pelicans are still in second, and they still two and a half games back of Winston-Salem. Both teams have been winning a lot of games lately, and that is making it difficult for Myrtle Beach to make up much ground. Then again, since the Pelicans are already in the playoffs, the important thing is just that they are playing well as they head into the postseason in a few weeks.

A home game against Frederick opens the week, followed by a trip to Salem and weekend series at home against Lynchburg.

South Bend : 21-21, 4th place.

The Cubs are back to .500 and still sitting within striking distance of division leading Fort Wayne; the TinCaps are just four games ahead. More importantly, since there are two playoff slots per division awarded in each half of the season in the Midwest League, second place West Michigan is just two and a half games up on the Cubs’ affiliate.

The Cubs will have to make up some ground on the road this week. Other than a home game against Clinton today, their entire week is spent in either Beloit or Clinton.

Eugene : 5-5, 3rd place

A lot can change in a week, and in the case of the Emeralds a week changed them from a first place to a third place team. They are still just two behind leading Salem-Keizer, though, so they remain well in thick of the division race.

Three games in Boise opens the week, and a five game set at home against Everett closes it out.

Arizona : 6-3, 1st place

The Cubs now hold a slender half a game lead over the second place Giants in the East division, and the Diamondbacks are not far behind.

This week the Cubs have games against some of the weaker teams in the desert, including the Athletics, Indians, Padres, and Rangers, as well as against the Giants. This could be their opportunity to open up a bit of ground between them and the rest of the division.

Is Almora A Prospect?

No one who reaches Double A at the age of 20 should be considered a bust while he is still just 21. And given that Almora is still on the young side for his league, he can’t really even be considered a late bloomer. In terms of age and level, he’s actually doing pretty well.

Not only should we still consider Almora a legitimate prospect, we should still consider him one of the better prospects in the Cubs’ organization. His glove, which is already among the better outfield gloves in baseball today, alone keeps him on the prospect radar. Fortunately, that glove isn’t alone. It comes with a bat.

That’s right folks, Almora can hit.

What has been different in the case of Almora, as compared to the rocket-prospects who now reside in the majors, is that his bat needed some development time in the minors. And when we consider that Almora right now is about the same age Bryant was the year he was drafted, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Generally speaking, the younger the hitter the more there is to learn.

And Almora, having done some learning, is now hitting .284/.361/.463 in 25 games and 106 plate appearances in the second half of the Double A season. He has 3 home runs, 11 walks, and just 10 strikeouts. For the season his walk rate (remember when he couldn’t take a walk?) is a very healthy 6.9%, and his strikeout rate is a ludicrously low 10.2%. In Double A. At age 21. At that age and level, those are the ratios of a quality prospect.

At some point, possibly this month, he’ll be challenged with a trip to Iowa. Once there he will again be one of the youngest players in the league and will again have to make adjustments and adapt his game to the craftier and more advanced pitching. If he does that successfully, though, and I very much think he will, he should be in position to take over center field in Wrigley in short order. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to see Almora entrenched as the Cubs number nine hitter and starting center fielder by mid-season next year.

That would mean Almora reaches the majors at the age of 22, or about the same age as Kyle Schwarber. Maybe he is more of a rocket-prospect than we thought after all.

And one last bit on the glove. He can still do – with ease – things like he did yesterday:

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