Although no one is sounding the alarms yet, there has been a healthy amount of discussion among Cubs fans regarding Albert Almora's walk rate. Or, specifically, the lack of one; Almora has yet to draw a walk through 17 games and 72 plate appearances. This worry has been heightened by Almora's past unwillingness to free passes - he walked just twice between 145 Rookie and Short-Season A ball plate appearances in 2012, and just 17 times in 272 Midwest League plate appearances last season.
Combined, Almora has now walked in only 4.3% of his professional plate appearances, which is highly uncharacteristic of players normally perceived as "favorites" of the current front office.
And while, yes, you'd always prefer to see players producing than not producing, I don't think there's reason yet to fear Almora will post Nefian walk rates in the future.
From my own personal experience seeing Albert Almora play, I can tell you that he has a good feel for the strike zone. In MWL action Almora took his fair share of balls and frequently spoiled pitcher's pitches at the edges of the zone. Despite this, he didn't walk much because MWL pitchers have a tendency to leave a lot of pitches in hittable parts of the zone, and Almora's contact abilities are too strong to just let such pitches get past him.
I imagine he's carrying much of the same mentality with him in Daytona, where he's all of a sudden facing significantly better pitching than he was in Kane County. Pitchers in High-A spot their fastballs better, have some command of their breaking balls, and are generally older than their Low-A counterparts. Plenty of the no-shot-in-hell bullpen dudes you see in the Midwest League are gone, too. (Sometimes I watch Kane County and think one friend I've known forever could pitch at the level. That is not the case with High-A Baseball)
When Almora finally does get used to the stuff he's seeing with Daytona, I fully expect his pitch recognition and feel for the zone to reappear. He is a very confident hitter with a good swing, good hands, and a good feel for the zone - players like him never forget how to hit. To quote an old scouting maxim - Hitters F***ing Hit.
Returning to expected levels of production is going to take time and effort for anyone, maybe especially so for a player who is nearly 3 years younger than most of his competition. Young players take time to develop, and a long walkless streak is just one of many hiccups that they go through. Prospects are often better off for experiencing these struggles too. It teaches them to adjust their swing, to adjust their personal goals and expectations of success. To adjust their whole outlook on what they need to do to get to the highest level.
In the end, it's still very early in the season, and Almora has the necessary skills and plenty of time to improve. So sit back and keep your mind on the positives, like...uh...playoff hockey.
[Note, this does not mean that I think Almora is ever going to be some plate-discipline monster. For one, from what I've seen, he's not going to let enough strikes past him to walk at a 10% rate. That can be a really good thing (Starlin Castro!) or a really bad thing (Starlin Castro!). Second, most players who walk at low rates in A ball never turn into OBP juggernauts. I may write something on this if any of y'all are interested. Let me know in the comments below!]
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Filed under: Minor League News