Chicago Cubs: The race is on for the center field nod

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 04: Ian Happ #8, Albert Almora Jr. #5, and Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs celebrate the 7-2 win Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on August 04, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 04: Ian Happ #8, Albert Almora Jr. #5, and Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs celebrate the 7-2 win Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on August 04, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The case for Albert Almora

Also 25 years old, Almora has proven to have more staying power than Happ. Almora played 152 games for the Cubs in 2018, but just 130 games in 2019.

He was healthy, but he didn’t perform last year. His batting average dropped 50 points, his OBP 52 points, and his WAR went from 1.7 to -1.0. He took a step back defensively as well, going from a 1.1 dWAR player in 2018 to a -0.4 dWAR player in 2019.

I’m not sure the Cubs have a true gauge on Almora to this point. Flashes of brilliance have mixed with moments of carelessness. He has the tools of an impact player, though he lacks in many of the game’s impact points, such as on-base percentage, home runs, and runs created.

He can look good on the field, but what is he really bringing to the team?

Despite spending a lot of time as the Chicago Cubs’ everyday center fielder, Almora is part of an even playing field this spring. He’s proven up to the challenge thus far, hitting .533 with two home runs in six spring training games.

How does he fit?

Defense is Almora’s ticket to playing time. He has tremendous arm strength and plenty of range. He’s especially important in an outfield with Kyle Schwarber, who lacks range and brings down the Cubs’ defensive numbers.

The Cubs already have a great offense, so all Almora really must do is blend in. If he can hit .280 and reach base close to a third of the time then he’s well worth a spot in the lineup. He hit .286 with a .323 OBP the year he played 152 games.

He must play stellar defense and get on base to make up for his low power and modest base-stealing ability. If he can’t do those things then he’ll just be getting in the way of a squad with loads of potential.