June 7, 2016
The Situation: Jorge Soler’s injury has added to the Cubs issues in OF. Kyle Schwarber succumbed to a season ending injury, and Matt Szczur has also been on the DL this season. As a result it is time for Jed and Co.’s first draft pick with the Cubs to make his major-league debut.
Background: Almora was the sixth-overall pick in 2012, and gave up an opportunity to play at Miami. Almora is currently in the midst of a breakout season at Iowa after a bumpy few years in Daytona and Tennessee. He regained value last year after a successful second go in Double-A, following a rough 36 games there in 2014. Almora has built off of that success this season in Triple-A posting his highest slugging percentage since his days in Kane County. Almora’s walk rates in the minor have been poor, with 7.1 percent representing his peak, though he has avoided whiffs as well. He entered 2016 as our seventh-ranked Cubs prospect, a fall from his former top-100 ranking.
Scouting Report: Almora has always been known for his keen instincts, elite defensive capabilities, and his contact tool. Unfortunately, a great eye does not complement that contact tool. Chris Crawford said earlier this year that one of the biggest adjustments Almora made last year was putting more strength into his swing, resulting in less weak contact and more gap hits. Almora didn’t grow into the power that some hoped for when he was drafted, but with more gap power he might have a low double-digit power season or two as a guy that will likely hover around the high single digits home run wise in the majors. His pitch recognition is average, but pitch selection remains a work in progress as Almora has the tendency to swing—and hit—everything in sight because of his great hand-eye coordination. This leads to the potential for weak contact mentioned prior, and contributes to his low walk and strike out rates. His swing has a short stroke to it, which he uses to hit to all fields.
In the outfield Almora can provide value as a fielder, even without having plus speed. His first step has always been noted as extremely quick, along with a great ability to read the ball. Even without an above-average bat he will be a solid starting center fielder that will provide amazing defense. Almora’s glove has been ready for years now, and it was a matter of the young outfielder’s bat catching up as much as it could before he got his first call to the show.
Immediate Big League Future: Almora will likely only be up the duration of Soler’s DL stint, but with impending Rule 5 eligibility he will need to be added to the 40-man roster regardless, and now makes sense to bring him up. Still, this likely means only spot duty for Almora due to Ben Zobrist’s versatility, and the depth the Cubs have in the infield. Almora wont be a superstar, but the young outfielder has the long-term look of a starting regular in center. —Grant Jones
Fantasy Take: The severity of Soler’s hamstring injury remains unclear. However, even in a best-case scenario, it’s an injury that will sideline him for at least the next few weeks. This is where the Cubs in-house versatility (Swiss army knife Ben Zobrist taking over as an everyday corner outfielder and Javier Baez moving to the keystone) eliminates the likelihood that Almora will garner enough plate appearances to generate significant fantasy value outside of NL-only formats.
The 22-year-old, who was hitting .318/.335/.444 with three home runs and 10 stolen bases at Triple-A Iowa, will find his way into Maddon’s rotation on the merits of his defensive value alone. While he doesn’t generate enough power or swipe enough bases to rank among the most intriguing fantasy prospects in the game for mixed leagues, he’s a .292 lifetime hitter, who has struck out in just under 12 percent of his minor-league plate appearances. Almora hasn’t blossomed into the five-category superstar many fantasy owners envisioned when the Cubs drafted him sixth-overall in 2012, but he’s going to be a useful piece in NL-only leagues, an asset in batting average that could also chip in the occasional stolen base, for years to come. —George Bissell
Grant Jones is an author of Baseball Prospectus.