Time for Albert Almora to use what he's learned

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs centerfield prospect Albert Almora almost bristles at the question: What happened last year?

After hitting .270 with 69 strikeouts and just 14 walks split between Single-A and Double-A last season, the former No. 1 pick of the Cubs dropped out of the top 100 in ESPN.com’s prospect rankings. But Almora doesn’t feel like it was a lost year.


“To be honest with you, I didn’t have bad year,” Almora said Tuesday morning before spring workouts began for the day. “I thought it was a great year when it comes down to how to deal with stuff. I learned a lot of things. I was happy with the outcome of the year. Sure the numbers weren’t there like previous years, but when it comes to my development, I thought it was a great year.”

Is he being naïve? We’ll know more after this season as Almora does admit the numbers have to catch up. ESPN prospect guru Keith Law is most blunt about Almora’s game: He needs to take a pitch, Law says. For Cubs brass, Almora’s nearly 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio in 2014 must stick out like a sore thumb. It’s no secret it might be the most important statistic they look at in assessing -- and advancing -- their prospects. One size doesn’t fit all, but Almora knows this is where he needs to improve.

“Mostly pitch recognition,” he said. “Getting my pitch to hit. It (walking more) would help my game out tremendously. I definitely think it’s part of the game I need to work on. If I’m on base it helps the team.”

You’ll excuse Almora for being a little distracted last season as his dad was battling life-threatening cancer and going through treatment during the baseball season. In May, he was well enough to see Almora hit a home run in person and his son’s demeanor picked up along with his dad’s health. His game improved as well.

Remember, Almora might be the best of the prospects when it comes to the instincts of baseball, especially on defense. Scouts were saying over a year ago that he was ready to play center field in the big leagues then. Only his bat needs to catch up. He’ll probably start this season at Double-A Tennessee, but if things go well, he should see a promotion to Triple-A Iowa. With current center fielder Dexter Fowler set to become a free agent at the end of this season, there should be another opening in center next year at this time. Maybe Almora will be ready by then. But first things first -- his plate discipline has to improve.

“I’m just going up there with a plan now,” Almora said. “If I don’t get my pitch to hit, I’m not swinging at it. It’s easier said than done, but I’m working on it.”

After a learning year in 2014, maybe it all comes together for the first draft pick of the Cubs' current front office.