The first selection of the Theo Epstein era on the North Side, Almora is an unsurprising selection for an organization that desperately needs talent in its system. The multifaceted outfielder from Mater Academy in Florida was apparently the Cubs number one target, to the point where they would have taken him first overall if given the chance. Epstein has a good drafting record–he drafted Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard in the first round, among a few others–so there is an inclination to trust this selection.
Almora is a rare case: a polished high schooler. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have room to get better, but most scouts say that the young Floridian is the most advanced of the prep school players in the 2012 draft. A centerfielder by trade, Almora has roughly league-average speed and a league-average throwing arm. Most teenagers without exceptional defensive skills would probably be destined for a corner outfield spot, but those who have watched Almora play are convinced that he can stick in center due to phenomenal jumps he gets and routes he runs. Almora seems to have a prodigious baseball IQ in all facets of the game: he is also a savvy baserunner and a compensates for his average throwing arm with a lightning release and deadly accuracy on his throws.
Almora’s hit tools all grade out as above average. He is not imposing, standing a lean, 6’2”, 170 lbs, he but generates significant power thanks to a quick bat and has shown the ability to hit with authority to all fields, an especially advanced skill for someone who couldn’t vote until early April. In addition to his high school career, where he hit an astounding .603 and slugged 1.164 his senior season–Almora has a considerable amount of experience playing for Team USA, having tied the record by being named to the squad six different times. In his latest international tournament, he won MVP honors at the Pan American U18 games while leading the United States to the championship.
Make no mistake about it, Almora is a five tool player. His tools may not be on the level of Byron Buxton or Carlos Correa, but Almora is gifted in his own right; several scouts have compared him with Carlos Beltran, a lofty comparison indeed. By virtue of his sterling performances in international tournaments, Almora has also shown the ability to step up his game against elite competition, a characteristic which will stand him in good stead as he joins the professional ranks. And perhaps unsurprisingly given how he plays the game, Almora has outstanding intangibles–his work ethic and make-up are off the charts.
Beltran seems overly optimistic. I’ll go with Adam Jones if Jones were an above average defender.
His unique collection of attributes give Almora the unusual combination, especially for a teenager, of a relatively high floor and a relatively high ceiling. I really like this pick for the Cubs, particularly because of the impact that good character guys can have on a clubhouse. Thanks to his advanced skill set, Cubs fans may not have to wait as long as they think before Almora is patrolling center at the Friendly Confines.
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