Almora has everyday player mentality

Center fielder wants to start every day, against both lefties and righties

March 5th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Given the way Cubs manager Joe Maddon has utilized center fielder , it is natural to focus on matchups and platoon advantages and playing time. Almora is trying to push those thoughts out of his mind and would like to shift the conversation in another direction.

That was crystal clear on Tuesday morning, when Almora bristled at the mention of trying to improve his approach and production against right-handed pitching. That is, of course, one of the keys to unlocking more plate appearances for Almora, but he plans on centering his thoughts in a different manner.

"I really don't want to talk about this anymore," Almora said. "Because it's redundant and it's something I don't like. I don't like to split lefties, righties. I'm playing baseball. I'm facing the opponents and that's it. I'm not saying I'm pissed you're asking me that. Just in general, I don't want to talk about it anymore. It's not something I'm going to limit myself to."

Almora's place in the lineup is a hot topic in the minds of Cubs fans, but Maddon has a lot of puzzle pieces to place together to create an opportunistic offensive and defensive picture each day. Beyond that, the manager has reiterated that he is trying to keep the development of players (specifically Almora, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and David Bote) in mind as he divvies up playing time around the diamond.

It is a given that Almora will be in the lineup -- possibly back in the leadoff spot -- when a lefty is on the mound. Against righties, Maddon will want to find a spot for Happ, who can be paired with Almora in center, but who can also handle the outfield corners along with second base. Ben Zobrist, Daniel Descalso, Jason Heyward and Schwarber will be in against right-handers as well, which could squeeze Almora to the bench at times.

"These guys have to be developed yet. They need opportunity. They need to play," Maddon said of the team's younger players. "Albert looks great right now. There's no question. And I really believe, as he moves forward, which he's showing right now, he's going to handle the right-handed pitcher and continually get better at that. Then, the sky's the limit at that point.

"But, while you're learning how to fly a little bit, you may have to walk a little bit."

Almora, who hit a leadoff homer off Reds righty Tony Santillan in Monday's 9-1 win, said an improved mental approach is more important for him right now than any mechanical tweak in the batter's box.

Last season, Almora was electric offensively out of the gates, hitting .332 with an .830 OPS through the end of June. Within that, he had nearly identical splits. Almora hit .333 (.855 OPS) with a 129 wRC+ in 77 plate appearances against lefties, compared to .331 (.820) with a 122 wRC+ in 184 PAs against righties.

It was the second half in which Almora's season changed dramatically. He hit .232 (.548 OPS) over the final three months, managing a .254 (.616) showing with a 69 wRC+ off lefties in that stretch. Almora's results against right-handers plummeted to .221 (.518) with a 39 wRC+ from July through the end of the season.

"The first half, whatever the case may be, I did really well," Almora said. "I still wanted to do more. I don't know. It's tough. As a competitor, I didn't feel like that was enough, you know? ... In the beginning of the season, I was just having a lot of fun and just going out there and being me. The results spoke to that."

Asked if he was ready to handle 700 at-bats this year, Almora laughed.

"I've been ready for that since I was 4 years old," he replied. "Obviously, that's not up to me. Joe's got a hard job with a bunch of talent that we have here. It's a good problem to have."