Albert Almora Jr. had a bad 2019 season. I think we can all agree on that. His performance on the field was down significantly from his 2018 season. That year had given some hope that he could become the Cubs’ everyday center fielder.
He started 2019 poorly. On April 24 he was hitting .182/.250/.182 (10-for-55) and, after starting six of the season’s first eight games he had been largely benched.
And then he went on a hot streak. Beginning with a 4-for-5 game April 26 at Arizona, Almora hit .306/.327/.571 (30-for-98) with eight doubles and six home runs in a 28-game span in which he started 22 games.
Then came Houston and the terrible incident in which his foul ball hit a little girl. We don’t need to belabor that here. The incident happened in the third game of that series in Houston. Almora went 3-for-12 with a home run in that series (the homer was in the first game), and then his performance fell off the table.
Over his next 44 games (31 of which were starts) he hit .207/.230/.298 (25-for-121).
I have to believe that what happened in Houston deeply affected Almora. He hit a bit better for the remainder of the season, .232/.267/.393 (13-for-56) but had essentially been benched, starting just 13 of the last 34 games he played in. His defense suffered, too. That had always been the best part of his game. While Almora has never had great speed, his fielding instincts were always top-notch and he generally took perfect routes to get to baseballs. That didn’t happen much of 2019, which was statistically his worst defensive season — he posted negative defensive WAR and had awful zone ratings.
The good defensive Almora would almost certainly have caught this ball [VIDEO] — and maybe that game, and the season, end differently.
(NOTE: Audio has been intentionally removed from that clip as it was part of an interview, not the PBP)
Almora was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the first No. 1 pick by Theo & Co. It seems clear that he’s never going to be the kind of player that you hope to get with such a high draft choice. But he is still just 25 (turns 26 in April) and I have to believe he can still be a useful fourth outfielder on a contending Cubs team. It seems likely that Ian Happ will be the Cubs’ starting center fielder this season. Having a backup like Almora — if he plays at his 2017 or 2018 level — would be a very useful thing to have on the Cubs’ bench in 2020.