Recently, I began looking at the premise of properly valuing draftee expectations. Part of that involves similar players drafted in his range, historical record at the slot, and to a lesser extend, comps from pros in the field of prospecting. However, to look at historic 75th selections, and to decide Jake Hannemann should be either Grady Sizemore or a cipher, as that encompasses most of the picks, is a bit lazy as well. How should Albert Almora be viewed?
When Almora was selected as the first pick of the Theo Epstein regime, things were a bit different. Javier Baez was playing in Peoria. Justin Germano wasn't a Cubs fan punchline yet. and many of the suits hadn't been placed yet. Also, Anthony Rizzo was still playing at Triple-A Iowa.
The Royals had just drafted Kyle Zimmer as the Cubs went on the clock. Mark Appel and Andrew Heaney were still on the board, as was Addison Russell. However, looking at things then as we would now, what would Theo Epstein really want with the sixth overall pick? He'd probably want a college-proven hitter that plays a center-of-the-diamond-ish position rather well. Alas, there weren't many to find.
The next four-year college bat who would be drafted was Tyler Naquin by Cleveland. Naquin has yet to debut in the majors. Naquin had an OPS of just under .800 in a return trip to Double-A. Which is where Almora ended up in 2014.
After Naquin (at 15), the next college hitter was Cardinals outfielder James Ramsey at 23. He started a three-player run of college bats, with Deven Marrero (Red Sox) and Richie Shaffer coming off next. None have debuted yet, nor has Victor Roache (Brewers at 28). The only hitter from that year's first-round hitters to scratch the majors so far was third pick Mike Zunino.
From a college hitting perspective, it looks to be a rather mediocre draft. Michael Wacha and Marcus Stroman were still on the board, but we now know the near-disdain that the current front office has with selecting pitchers first. For the record, the Cubs did grab arms Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn later in the first, with Duane Underwood coming off in Round 2. The die had been cast. We just didn't know it yet.
If drafting up the middle matters, and apparently that is preferred early on (with the exception of pitching), there weren't really any better options than Almora. Which leads to the next topic with the selection. Prep hitters in general.
Doubtless, Cubs scouts and execs spent hours watching video of recent top-picks Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber before pulling the lever for them on draft day. Scouts saw them live against college arms. Many differing opinions were bandied across rooms deciding on who to take, using all available information.
When drafting a high school hitter, information is far less plentiful, and what exists may be of limited value. How much benefit does it provide watching a one-pitch junior in high school try to sneak a 74 mile per hour fast ball by Albert Almora, place it right in the zone, and he rips it for a double? That provides precious little predictive value for how he will handle a slider on the black with a 1-2 count against a mid-rotation MLB starting pitcher. That information doesn't exist.
Almora was over four years below the average age of a Southern League player last season. Since leaving Arizona, he has been at least 2.3 years younger than average in every stop, with 4.5 years younger than average in Kodak his peak so far. His OPS was .605, which isn't good. However, I expect Almora to keep getting better even after his 21st birthday, which happens in April. He is still younger than some of the guys I mentioned taken after him were on draft day, and he is to the same level they are now. And Cubs fans like to consider Almora a mild disappointment.
For a bit more historical reference, what has been the success rate at the sixth pick? Probably worse than you'd think. Since the Yankees plucked Derek Jeter in 1992, only two players selected sixth have as many as 10 WAR in their career (Zack Greinke and Rocco Baldelli). At least six figure to complete their career without playing a single MLB game. Off of that cherry-picked sample size, three times more players don't debut as have 10 WAR careers.
What would be a reasonable take on Almora's career so far? He's probably closer to 10 WAR than never playing in the majors. He plays a key defensive position, and largely plays it well. He doesn't seem to cause any drama, and is in-line for a mid-season move up to Triple-A Iowa, if he improves his hitting in Tennessee. What Almora has been, mostly, is about what you should expect from a sixth overall selection.
He is what the brass expects from their selections. He prepares himself. He hustles on offense and defense. He has advanced against older players. He shows abilities that belong at the top level. He improves his game, and doesn't cause trouble.
It would be nice if he starts hitting better, particularly against righthanders. However, to expect a player to be a finished project at 20 or 21 is rather unreasonable.
We would like all of our early selections to be multi-time Shelby Miller, who has since been traded. There isn't certainty among veterans, much less prospects. Unless you gambled you life savings on Michael Brantley having a 7 WAR season last year.. Obviously. Remember, though: The plum of the latter half of that round was Michael Wacha. By playoff time in 2014, he had been surpassed by
Baseball tends to place too much on projecting prospects. Yes, there are some lessons that can be gleaned from Almora's early career. Much of that points to him being a lower-end hitter in the majors, with rather solid defense. Perhaps, some of that will be accurate.
In baseball, games matter. Information can be acquired, offensively and defensively in any game in Wrigley, other big league venues, or in the minors. Focusing on any one bit of data too intently might be a mistake. I'm content with saying Almora will get quite a bit from his ability. I'm not sure that that will satisfy your curiosity. Or your demand for improved intel. If you want information on Almora, listen to him play. Tennessee plays 140 games this year, and so does Iowa. Watching a game is probably best for getting actionable data. However, audio feeds can be helpful as well.
Expecting players to get much over 10 WAR is probably a bit demanding. That said, as a sixth pick, Almora could well ease into the 12-15 range, particularly in the cost-controlled years. Anything more is probably icing. As per usual, pay attention starting in March. That's when things matter again. Not just for Almora, but players less than four years advanced against their league, as well.