Albert Almora, center fielder, 6-2 180
Drafted by the Cubs in the first round (sixth overall) in 2012
Probable Next Stop: High-A Daytona
Potential Cubs Comp: Ryne Sandberg
To look ahead to Almora's career, I look back at some of the Cubs' best center fielders since I began following the team in the summer of 1969. As Adolfo Phillips had already been traded/dumped/ruined, I don't include him.
The first Cubs CF I consider reasonably good was Rick Monday. Until I looked at his numbers, I thought he was a better defender than he appears to have been. Monday had average speed, in other words, he probably should have covered more ground than he did. In five seasons in Chicago, he put up 11.2 WAR. That was off of his offense, which was based on more power than high average. He drew walks before they were emphasized.
The next solid Cubs CF was Bob Dernier. In his four Cubs seasons, his speed was a key component. In 1984, he hit far better than expected. In three of his years in Wrigley, his walks and strikeouts were very close in frequency. His defense was a positive, at least for the first two seasons. (His arm wasn't particularly strong, if memory serves.) Injuries limited his speed in 1986 and 87, and his four-year WAR was only 4.0 with the Cubs.
The best center fielder the Cubs have had in this time frame was Kenny Lofton. Absconded from Pittsburgh along with Aramis Ramirez, Lofton gave the Cubs an honest-to-goodness leadoff man for two months, and a playoff run. His range in CF was well better-than-average. He walked 18 times, fanning 22, and banged out three homers while sporting an .852 OPS. His OPS+ was 120.
Aside from those three, you get to look back fondly on options like Corey Patterson, Jerry Martin, Cleo James, Dave Martinez, and others. While the argument "It's hard to develop center fielders" can be raised forever, other teams have managed to do it. To create something, you first need an idea what you're talking about. For too long, the Cubs have been flabbergasted, or something, when it comes to finding players with more than three tools.
My Sandberg comp will draw some (f)ire, but my other idea was Alfonso Soriano. Almora is a swinger. He doesn't wave at bad pitches, so much. But he isn't all Kenny Lofton about trying to coax walks. Almora has a strong arm for CF, and I remember hearing about one play where he full-out extended for a ball in front of him in the rain, quickly recovered, and gunned the runner at home -- after just coming back from hamstring issues.
He hits rope after rope, but seems to be vulnerable to pitches with late downward movement. Apparently, in high school, he hadn't seen many of those. At 19, he was hitting pitchers often two or three years his senior to a .842 OPS clip. In one of the games I saw, he hit a sand wedge to second base. It took a reverse bounce (not sure the physics on that), and by the time the fielder recovered, Almora had an infield hit.
I see him as a leadoff man or a two hitter. He could certainly hit over 20 homers a season, but, like Sandberg, the homers will usually be from solid contact and good form than freakish strength. The competition this year, as least, for me, will be to listen to Daytona or Kane County on game nights. (As Iowa and Tennessee will be available on stream the next day.)
For a stat to look at for Almora, watch Games Played. Even if he struggles a bit at age 20 in the Florida State League, that's forgivable. I doubt he will struggle, though. Or remain there once monsoon season starts.
If Almora can reach Double-A Tennessee, and have any success at all at 20, the Cubs CF drought may be drawing near a close. Even if he isn't an All-Star, he should be better than what we're used to.