Albert Almora Jr. was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2012, sixth overall, the very first draft pick made by the Theo Epstein regime in Chicago.
He made the major leagues in 2016, had a key baserunning play in the World Series, and since then has played most, but not all of the time. He’s a plus defensive center fielder, but his hitting hasn’t quite made the level for him to play every day. At times there are signs; he had 24 doubles in 444 at-bats in 2018, but he still doesn’t walk much and he strikes out too much. Joe Maddon has brought him along slowly — something Joe often does with young players — to the frustration of some fans who think Almora should play more often. I would think, though, that Almora understands the plan for him.
Tuesday, AA showed why some predict stardom for him. He homered leading off the game, his first of the spring, and also made a terrific catch in center field, helping lead the Cubs to a 9-1 win over the Reds, the Reds’ only run a consolation homer in the ninth.
Also showing well in this game were the pitchers. Alec Mills got the start while Cole Hamels stayed back in Mesa to throw a sim game, and “Millsy” threw two solid innings. The Cubs also got scoreless innings from Brian Duensing, George Kontos, Randy Rosario, Allen Webster and Craig Brooks. Duensing has looked very good this spring, apparently fully recovered from the shoulder issue that ruined his 2018 season. Remember, Duensing was a solid reliever with 1.4 bWAR in 2017. If he can get back to that level, this year’s pen will be much improved. Duensing’s ineffectiveness and injury were a significant part of making last year’s staff shaky.
The Cubs broke it open with a five-run seventh once all the big leaguers left the game. The good news, though, was that all this scoring was off Reds major-league relievers, including off their closer Raisel Iglesias.
The Reds had a couple of unusual names in their lineup today. Outfielder Jose Siri must get quite a few “Hey, Siri!” comments from his teammates. And I could have sworn that “Kylo Ren” from Star Wars came into the game late for them, but his real name is Kyle Wren.
Sadly, there is no video from today’s game, because I would very much like to show you Almora’s homer and catch. You’ll just have to imagine it in your mind, Here, though, are a few minutes’ worth of Cole Hamels’ simulated game in Mesa this morning.
Tuesday, the Cubs again play a road game, this one at Tempe Diablo Stadium against the Angels. Kyle Hendricks will make the trip to Tempe to start for the Cubs. As of now there is no starter listed for the Angels. Game time Tuesday is 2:10 p.m. CT. There will be TV coverage via the Angels network Fox Sports West, and an audio webcast on cubs.com.