Prospect Series: Almora leads solid group in CF

We’ll finish up with the middle of the field prospects today.

The Cubs appear to be set here for quite awhile.  Albert Almora is the starter and still rookie eligible, though we did not include him on our prospects list.  He certainly would have been in the top 5, likely 3rd.  There was no objective reason for doing it.  It just feels like he’s already a major leaguer.  In fact, he’s sort of seemed that way since the first day he stepped out on the backfields here.  We’ll discuss him here instead.

TOP PROSPECTS

Albert Almora

  • Age: 22
  • B/T: R/R
  • 6’2″, 190 lbs.
  • Last level reached: MLB Chicago Cubs

Almora is a different CF’er than Dexter Fowler.  He may not create as many runs early in his career, but he will save more on defense.  HeAlmora may have the best instincts of any CFer in recent Cubs history.  He gets tremendous reads and takes great routes, his speed is a tick above average, his arm is plus when when we take into account his accuracy, his ability to get into position, get rid of the ball quickly, and his above average arm strength.  Almora has an aggressive style of play.  If there is a chance, he is going to try to make the play — that will lead to some spectacular catches as well as occasions where we may be holding our breath that he doesn’t crash through the outfield wall.   He’s a fun player to watch. That defense becomes especially important as the Cubs are set to go with Kyle Schwarber in LF.  Schwarber’s defense isn’t as bad as the narrative brought on by his 2015 NLCS mishaps, but he is coming back from a severe knee injury and we have to think that while he’ll be working to regain as much range as possible, he may be limited, especially early on.  Perhaps Almora can make up some ground there that Fowler may not have.

At the plate, we can expect Almora to make a lot of contact, especially as he learns the league and continues to improve his pitch recognition, which is good despite the extremely low walk rates.  Almora approach at the plate mirrors his aggressive play in the field.  He’ll chase.  He wants to make things happen — but he also is an intelligent ballplayer who understands what the Cubs philosophy.  Apart from that, he just needs experience.  Injuries and quick promotions have meant that Almora hasn’t had time to settle in and learn the league.  He has put up his highest walk rates (6.3% and 7.1%) in years 2013 and 2015, the two years where he has spent the most time at one level (Kane County and Tennessee, respectively).  He’ll get a chance to do that at the MLB level and I expect those walk rates to rise as he gets more and more repetition and becomes familiar with MLB pitching.  When Almora does put the ball in play, we should expect hard, line drive contact.  It always amused me when I heard comparisons to Darwin Barney (good field, no bat) or descriptions of Almora as a contact guy who just slaps the ball in play.  Almora has a quick, short swing and makes loud contact.  There probably aren’t going to be a lot of HRs, but it would surprise me to see him be a 12-15 HR guy when he settles in.

Apart from everything else, Almora is a natural leader and plays with the kind of passion fans will love.  He knows he belongs and that has been his mindset since day one as a professional.  The high level of competition isn’t going to faze him.  He communicates well with teammates in both English and Spanish.  When I think of guys who are going to take the mantle and lead this team into the next decade, it’s Almora and Schwarber as well as current young leader Anthony Rizzo.

D.J. Wilson

  • Age: 2o
  • B/T: L/L
  • 5’8″, 177 lbs.
  • Last Level Reached: Short Season A: Eugene

See Top Prospects 9-12 for description

Donnie Dewees

  • Age: 23
  • B/T: L/L
  • 5’11”, 208 lbs.
  • Last Level Reached: Short Season A: Myrtle Beach

See Top Prospects 13-16 for discussion

Jacob Hannemann

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: L/R
  • 6’1″, 195 lbs.
  • Last Level Reached: AA Tennessee

Hannemann is the best athlete in the system.  He has great, effortless speed.  It reminds me of watching Ryne Sandberg as a kid.  He’s such an efficient runner that he just seems to gracefully glide from first to 3rd.   There are other good athletes all over the system, yet Hannemann still stands out in that regard.  One more than one occasion I’ve been asked or have heard asked rival scouts ask, “Who’s that guy”.  He doesn’t go unnoticed and I think that is a big reason the Cubs felt they had to protect him.  He’s the kind of athlete organizations don’t mind taking a chance on.

The Cubs development staff has had a great test trying to turn him from athlete to ballplayer.  Hannemann can be found on the backfields often with coaches to make that transition.  He has had a lot to learn and, because of a two year mission, not as much time as most prospects to learn it.  That he has made as much progress as he has is a testament to his athleticism, work ethic, and coachability.

Right now, Hannemann’s biggest strength as a ballplayer is as a defender in CF, where he grades as plus.  Those same graceful strides eat up a ton of ground in CF.  When he gets a good jump/read and takes good routes, his range can rival that of Almora and DJ Wilson as the best in the system.  His arm is average, but plenty good enough for CF — and certainly an improvement since he was drafted.

At the plate, he is inconsistent.  He has good bat speed when he turns on pitches and he’ll surprise you with his raw power, but Hannemann has been working on improving his all-around skills at the plate, from pitch recognition and plate discipline to take the ball the other way.

Hannemann may see time in the majors should a need for an extra outfielder arise.  Extra outfielder appears to be his most likely outcome as a major leaguer.  I never like to give up or even set limits on athletes with Hannemann’s mental makeup.  Much will depend on how his bat comes around because he can already be useful as a defender and baserunner.

Others to Watch

John Andreoli is a favorite of some fans for his ability to get on base and his very good baserunning ability once he’s on.  There is something of an every man quality to him.  He has something of a stocky build, isn’t the graceful athlete that Hannemann is or the explosive one that DJ Wilson is, and unlike Almora, nothing he does looks pretty.  He just grinds away and produces — and maybe we just identify with that.  When we talk about the great defensive CF’ers in this system, it’d be a great oversight to leave Trey Martin out of the equation.  He covers a lot of ground with those long strides and has the athleticism to make acrobatic plays in the field.  Where Martin has struggled with is hitting.  Those long limbs that serve him well in the outfield can tie him up at the plate.  When he gets his arms extended, he shows decent pop.  Connor Myers is a human highlight machine in CF.  He has good speed and athleticism, great instincts, a good arm, and a daredevil’s mentality in the field.  At the plate, he needs a bit more balance to get some drive into the ball rather than settling for putting it in play.  He appeared to be making strides in that area this past fall.  Zach Davis and Tolly Filotei are smaller, athletic, defensive oriented CFers with some speed, but both will need to improve hitting skills.  There were a couple of DSL CFers in camp.  Fernando Kelli is a slight-framed switch-hitter with good speed but needs to add a lot of strength right now.  Jose Gutierrez was an interesting young player.  He has a lean, athletic frame to go with good speed.  He made some nice catches in instructs.  He showed some potential as a hitter as well, showing a little extra base power.  It will be interesting to see how he develops as he fills out physically.  I like his potential to add strength and add a bit of pop.  If were to go with a couple of sleepers in this group, I’d pick Gutierrez and Myers.

Filed under: Prospect Series 2017

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    It sounds like we have some very interesting prospects in CF. I like the descriptions of Kelli and Connor Myers. Defense is so important and is seems like we have mainly defensive CF in the system, no one with outstanding offensive skills.
    I do feel that Albert A will raise his BB rate the more time he spends with the Cubs and as I said in an earlier thread I really believe that we'll be pleasantly surprised at how well he'll hit.
    Do any other of our prospects have his baseball IQ John? Also, picking between Szczur and Andreoli which will be better with the Cubs? I think I know what you'll say because Andreoli stayed down on the farm. I am really interested in see Hannemann. I hope that at some point he'll be up.
    Thanks again John. So many of us really look forward to your insights.

  • It's a great thing Almora is 22 years old. I really believe he will be our CF for the next decade. People will fall in love with him if we can keep him healthy and on the field. He will be Baez-like as a CF--huge plays, great instincts, and the "how the hell did he do that" plays regularly.

    We are really think in CF as a system. Wilson is probably 4 years away--and that is ok. He has upside but also some real development at hand. We really want him to be the top of the order lead-off type due to his tools and skillset. However, he was awful as a lead-off hitter. And took off when put into the 9 hole. As a lead-off hitter he had a higher walk rate, but could not hit above the Mendoza line. Then in the 9 hole, he hit over .300, but his walk rate dropped off significantly. He has to learn the fine line between trying to take walks and maintaining aggressiveness. This will be the defining factor for him as he progresses and develops.

    John, any updates on his swing? It was pretty ugly at the start of spring and I believe they pulled him out of games for a while last ST which may have cost him a shot at a full season team. Has he smoothed it out in AZ?

    I just don't see Hanneman amounting to much. Given the positional flexibility on the MLB roster, I don't think he will have a role with us.

  • John's comments about Almora make it even harder waiting for opening day. I love that kid. I love all these kids. Can't wait for next season. We had the starting infield in last year's all star game. This year we have a legit chance to have all 8 positions.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Don't forget the manager.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I think as long as he can hold his own offense, he'll be a player a lot of fans like because of the way he plays the game. He's as passionate as anyone out there.

  • I know Zobrist has to play somewhere, and Almora will share time with Jay based on matchups, but I'm a defensive-oriented baseball fan. The thought of Contreras, Russell, Baez, and Almora up the middle makes me happy.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Not to mention Heyward and Rizzo on a couple of the corners. The Cubs defense is sick, and should continue to be so for some time.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    That's great defense up the middle with those four kids: Rocket engines burning fuel so fast . . .

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I think the Javy blueprint is exactly what we'll see with Almora, so we will see Jay in quite a few matchups. The upside is Jay can play defense too,

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Add in Bryant and suddenly this defense is freakishly good. He might be the 2nd worst defender, but well above average.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I was just talking about up the middle, because that is mainly the defensive focus. Add in the Gold Gloves of Heyward and Rizzo, with the above-average Bryant and an underrated Schwarber (mark my words), and I'm in baseball heaven.

    Many people like watching big offense, and that's fine. To each their own. A 1-0 game, with dominating complete games from both starting pitchers, is my preference. A walk-off grounder to the 2B after a bunt single, stolen base, and sac bunt floats my boat. For all the talk of the offensive prowess of this young team, I think the defense gets overlooked. Defensive metrics remain iffy, but many evaluators had the 2016 Cubs as possibly the best defensive team ever. I enjoyed that aspect of the winning more than any other.

    "All my friends are skeletons,
    They beat the rhythm with their bones".

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Fangraphs had plenty of articles about ways to measure just how good the Cubs were defensively.

    Defensive metrics are starting to come into their own now too. Not only are there much better ones out there and publicly available than 10-15 years ago (or even 5-6 years ago) but there is also a greater understanding among baseball fans, both average fans and the more "intensely interested," by which I mean readers of Cubs Den.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    While I enjoy watching home runs, and there is almost nothing more exciting that some guy smacking a ball into and OF corner and racing off to get to 3B just ahead of a throw from the OF,...

    What I love more watching a guy on the mound pitching with the confidence that his defense has got his back if the batter does make contact - and that defense just plain doing its job,...

    Offense is fun and useful for winning games,... solid defense and pitching win seasons.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Geezers like me love strength up the middle. This one makes me giddy with anticipation.

  • My only concern with Almora is durability. He plays such a reckless style and I fear he is not the physical specimen that can hold up under that type of wear and tear. Fortunately, on a team as deep as the Cubs he may never need to be counted on to start 150+ games in CF. I think he is best suited to get playing time similar to Javy. Start 3-4 times a week and then play some defense for a couple innings in the other games. I think this will help Almora hold up over a long season.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I have those same concerns about Almora patrolling CF in Wrigley. Many of his injuries have been crash-related. Sam Fuld comes to mind, but I think Fuld always knew he was right on the bubble as a major-leaguer. Almora hopefully will realize he can tone it down a bit without the pressure to prove himself daily. But my personality is the same way, all-out all the time. That trait is not easily repressed, even after repeated instances of bad experiences.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    "Many of his injuries have been crash-related."

    This has to be one of my favorite sentences I have read on here since I started reading in 2013. Thanks, BP. It is a great one. No less so because it is probably accurate.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thank you, Joel, and it is unfortunately accurate. My own experience of pushing things too hard leads to my concern for Almora. As I said, that is a personal trait that sometimes can't be coached out of people.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    That's the thing. It's who Almora is. Can rein it in a bit, but don't want to take that from him

  • I'm a big fan of Wilson and am willing to be very patient with him and could definitely imagine him taking over for Almora 5 years or so down the road.

    I was slow to come around on Hannemann. The speed and athleticism were easy to project into defensive ability early on, but he was very rough as a hitter and the team pushed him aggressively through the system. There were a lot of struggles, but he started to win me over a bit in 2015, and then last year I finally started seeing some more of the upside at the plate. He won't be a starter, but I am more and more convinced that he can help out in the majors at some point and not be a liability at the plate.

    I have always loved watching Martin play defense. He just glides so naturally out there. At the plate it has always been awkward and a work in progress. I had hopes early on that he might take the Hannemann path and eventually come around, but at this point it doesn't look like that will ever work out. I think Martin is likely why I was a little hesitant to put much faith in Hannemann at first.

    Myers has some Almora in him defensively, unfortunately I don't see a bat to go with it. But like Martin it will be fun to watch him patrol minor league outfields for the next couple of years.

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    The administer is looking at my first response so I'll write a smaller version.
    I think Almora will do much better at the plate, including his BB rate with regular playing time and coaching and peer, not pressure, but learning and seeing what the others are doing.
    Of the young kids, both Connor Myers and Fernando Kelli are ones to watch, but DJ Wilson is probably the most exciting to watch for. I hope to see Hannemann play and see him glide on the turf at Wrigley. I wonder if Andreoli could take Szczur's place up here--he didn't last season but maybe we'll see in ST.
    It looks like we have some great defensive CF in the system and that bodes well for us.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Me too. The Admin Monster gobbled up my post too.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I have no idea where those things go.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, we use to say at work "in the bit bucket" ;)

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I don't know that Andreoli has the defensive "chops" to replace Szczur. He gets on base and I like that as much as the next guy. But I think his CF defense isn't as good as Szczur and Szczur is actually pretty good in the corners too. The main advantage of Andreoli is that he would have minor league options allowing the Cubs to put him on a "yo-yo." But at that point we might as well trade Szczur for what we can get (likely a minor leaguer, maybe one with promise) and have that roster spot available for someone else. Maybe even bring back Chris Coghlan (LHB, can play multiple positions, but particularly LF, ability to make contact). Though I don't know if I want Coghlan on a 3-4 year deal and I think that is what he is searching for.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    It seems Hannemann would be more in line for Szczur role, albeit from left side, which will be more important if RH Almora is starter.

  • I am all about defense in CF and Almora is one of the best that I have seen. Outstanding jumps, routes, and accurate powerful arm. His D will really help our Pitching staff continue to have low ERAs. With Almora and Heyward in CF and RF, two Gold Glove fielders with our outstanding infield. Got to love it. What is also nice are the very good Defensive CFs in the pipeline in Hanneman, Trey Martin, and DJ Wilson. We are set for great outfield defense for years. Offense from the CF position is a bonus especially when you have a fantastic offensive team.

  • In reply to TROS:

    I'm a little too young to have seen Willie Mays live, so the best I've ever seen was a younger Andruw Jones. He was too smooth, and made it look too easy. Even old-school Bobby Cox had to amend his ways, realizing Andruw's natural ability sometimes made him look lazy.

    Many of these young guys we have in the pipeline won't be starters, but as you stated, they are nice to have. Much like a competent SS, a guy who can play CF can play any OF position. Even without a big bat, that ability can maintain a MLB career.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    CF has always been a weak position for the Cubs as long as I have been alive. CF, 2B,SS, C, should always be the best defenders for a WS contender and we had that in 2016. I just looked up a top 100 Cubs ever on ESPN, (not sure if I agree), but.... the first CF is Dexter Fowler at 49, Jose Cardenal at 50, and Andy Pafko at 52. They say Hack Wilson was a CF /OF. With his power stats, I would think he was offense first.
    Back in the late 60s and 70s, teams would go for a defense first CF, with lots of speed. The Cubs never matched this. Willie Mays was incredible, even at the end of his career. Boy could he play CF. Couple of examples of Defense/Speed first - Willie McGee, Gary Maddox, Willie Wilson. Great Defense and each could hit for average also.

    Andruw Jones was an excellent defensive CF.
    The Cubs have finally caught up and have a great CF and a pipeline with many to pick up from Almora. Love it.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I saw Mays, and there was none better. But perhaps just as good was Paul Blair.

  • Even though Almora doesn't hit a lot of homers, I'm always impressed with the loud hard contact he makes. If he can get his BB% up to the 6 or 7 percent range (which he has shown he can do), he is going to be such a valuable player.

  • In reply to couch:

    I think that's one thing you don't realize until you see him live. He isn't slapping the ball out there, he's punching it with some authority.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I want to thank you for the prospect series. And also the article yesterday as well. I was out of town so couldn't comment. You are providing some premium level content for free and I really do appreciate it.

  • kinda sad to see the matt szczur era coming to an end after him being in the organization so long. like with andreoli a lot of these fringy guys just don't have much of a shot with so many spots on lockdown. the heyward signing sealed a few fates even if he opts out, I thought RF was going to be a revolving door the next few years until jason signed on.

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    I did see Willie Mays play (12 GG) but someone who might be more like Almora would be Paul Blair of the Orioles. His lifetime slash line was .250/.302/.382. He hit 26 HRs one year but mostly in the teens and did win 8 GGs. I think Albert will hit better but from what I saw last year he very well could be that good in the field. If he can have a Paul Blair career I'm sure the Cubs would be very happy.

  • Was in SF for game 3 of NLDS. Almora came oh so close to catching C. Gillespie's game changing triple. Think the national narrative on him changes with another half step. Buster Olney maybe makes him HM CF this year.

    Fine, he makes a game saving double play in the ninth, robbing Posey, but it's not the same. At bat I'm still in wait and see mode (castro's collapse maybe?), but count me in on the D.

  • I've always enjoyed good defensive teams, but these Cubs have really illustrated the difference that a solid defensive team wins games. Russell, Baez, Heywood, Ross/Contreras defense were the difference in so many victories last season.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    My mind just keeps going back to Arrieta's last win vs the Cardinals in September. There was a DP grounder that Carpenter (2B) had to range to his left. He fielded it cleanly. Turned and threw to Gyorko (SS) at 2B and he relayed it to 1B. They missed Russell by almost a full step. JD commented something like, "I know it was kind of a long throw for Carpenter, but you just have to believe that if it had been Baez and Russell out there they would have FOUND a way to turn that double play." It was just things like that. These guys have extraordinary athletic skill. But they pair it with a burning desire to succeed and a commitment to doing things right.

  • Schwarber's defense isn't as bad as the narrative brought on by his 2015 NLCS mishaps.

    Nor, hopefully, are Baez and Russell as bad as their game 6 fielding exploits might suggest. Post-season play has not been kind to any of the Cubs defense metrics, from the 4 errors against the Dodgers in 08 to Leon Durham to Alex Gonzalez. Seems to me that the immense pressure to finally win that championship affected many of the Cubs, including Schwarber. Wonder if they'll do better in the field next postseason

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    In reply to Lildude:

    I think the experience, bitter as it was, of losing the NLCS in 2015 helped the Cubs. Most of the roster had "been there" before. They knew the routine. I am hopeful that they take their WS experience this year and translate it into a similarly strong performance next year. Now they have all "been there/done that."

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    In reply to Lildude:

    Schwarber has the misfortune of diving for that ball in 2015 and that's what people remember. I think he could be a Keith Moreland type of OF--average but if he could get to the ball he caught it and a strong arm.
    The more I think of Almora the more I think we'll see the difference between a good CF like Dexter and a great CF. Like watching what Javy does a 2nd--we're just not used to seeing that ability, it's not just very good but superior. Again, I just think of our defense up the middle and smile and how the other teams are thinking--where can I hit the ball to get a hit?

  • OT: So I'm heading to spring training for the first time and I'd like to hit the back fields one or two of the days I'm down there. What is the best time of day to get a look at the prospects? Also, do some of the big league guys stay behind and get some work in when they are on the road?

  • In reply to Mike:

    Mornings are when most of the action occurs. The Cubs typically post a schedule for the day's workouts at the intersection of the back fields. The overall timing doesn't change much from day to day. Sometimes it's hard to track down the MLBers since they occasionally work out in Sloan stadium, but the prospects will be on the back fields, particularly late in ST.

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    What if Al slashes a 2.80/3.30/.400 line, with all field line drive power. That would be scary. But would they keep Jay?

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    In reply to Wrigley0923:

    And he's hitting rhp's at a decent rate.

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