On Tuesday night, Albert Almora stepped up to the plate with one out in the top of the ninth inning of a tied ball game. He smacked a double into the left center field gap of Nationals Park and had the first game winning hit of his MLB career.
In addition to the offense – which has actually been pretty great (more on that in a minute) – Almora has dazzled us with the sparkling defense in both center and left field that we’ve been hearing about for years.
But what happens when Jorge Soler returns? Is there a permanent place on the big league roster for Albert Almora right now? At a minimum, a return in September when the rosters expand is virtually guaranteed, but there’s a lot of baseball to be played before that. So what’s the verdict? Carrie Muskat (MLB.com), Patrick Mooney (CSN Chicago) and Mark Gonzales (Chicago Tribune) tackled the question with words from Cubs manager Joe Maddon, and from what I can ascertain, a return to Triple-A is probably in Almora’s future.
That said, Maddon is hardly absolute. “I honestly don’t know,” Maddon said, per the reports. “With a guy like Albert, you want to make sure you have some opportunity to give him some playing time. You don’t want him to sit. He’s still in that developmental stage.” Maddon added that he believes Almora is a really good player, one that he’s extremely comfortable with playing and starting day-to-day, but also one whose personal development will be heavily weighed in the decision. It’ll require a look at the big picture, including the team’s record, the roster, and what’s best for Almora at the time that decision comes along.
And to that end, Maddon is right. Although Almora has been playing very well on both sides of the ball, he only reached AAA at the start of the season and just been experiencing his first stretch of sustained success dating back to the end of 2015. In all likelihood, he’ll need a little more time in the minors before being permanently ready for his final call up to the Major Leagues.
But that’s not the end of the story, and Maddon knows it. Things change all the time, Cubs fans should know more than anyone, so maybe there is a way he’ll end up staying. The question is: would we actually even like the scenario in which that occurs?
Maddon pointed to the “wonderful problem” the Cubs had with “too many outfielders,” but then injuries to Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler quickly changed things. “Now you’re on to Plan B and C,” Maddon said, “so I really, honestly, don’t think that far ahead, because it just normally takes care of itself.” Indeed, that’s as true as ever, isn’t it? Hell, Chris Coghlan is back on the Cubs right now AND Almora is up with the team. Think about how crazy that is, given where things were just a couple months ago. Bet you wouldn’t have predicted this.
All Maddon knows is that he likes Almora and would be happy to have him. And why wouldn’t he be? Almora has been absolutely great. He’s only had 17 plate appearances to date, but has done a lot with what he’s been given. Over that eight game stretch, Almora has slashed .353/.353/.529 with a .176 ISO (you didn’t think he was going to magically start walking, did you?).
No, he hasn’t yet taken a walk, but he has struck out only 23.5% of the time (which is actually a bit high for him). Even still, that line is good for a .375 wOBA and a 136 wRC+ (meaning that he has been roughly 36% better than the average Major League hitter). With his defense in the outfield those numbers are way better than they need to be for him to be a valuable player (ask Jason Heyward).
This are all tiny samples, of course, so keep it in perspective.
For his part, Almora is just trying to work hard, keep his head down and be the best player he can be – and you can read his thoughts at CSN and the Tribune, where he flashes some of that 80-grade makeup we’ve heard just as much about as his stellar defense.
Whatever happens down the line, it’s good to know that the Cubs have Almora around, either for the present or the future. Or both, if need be.
And if Almora does head back to Triple-A after this stint, it’ll probably less a reflection of his ability and performance than a reflection of a developmental approach
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.