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Almora's swing changes paying early dividends

@MLBastian
February 24, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Albert Almora Jr. did not want to get into the details about his swing changes in his first interview with reporters earlier this spring. With cameras rolling and a slew of mics and recorders surrounding him, the Cubs outfielder preferred to keep the conversation simple. "I made

MESA, Ariz. -- Albert Almora Jr. did not want to get into the details about his swing changes in his first interview with reporters earlier this spring. With cameras rolling and a slew of mics and recorders surrounding him, the Cubs outfielder preferred to keep the conversation simple.

"I made adjustments," Almora said. "I made adjustments that you guys will see in the game. It's visibly different."

That is where the initial insight ended.

With three Cactus League games now in the books for the Cubs, though, it was time to examine what could be seen within Almora's swing. The first sample available for review arrived on Saturday, when he sent a pitch from A's reliever Lou Trivino into the right-center-field gap at Sloan Park for a double.

Here is what was "visibly different" after watching that swing multiple times:

• Almora was standing more upright in his setup.
• His stance was not as open as it was in 2019.
• The leg kick of a year ago was noticeably reduced.
• He was less rotational as he gathered into a firing position.

On Monday morning, as Almora prepared for Chicago's morning workout and the afternoon's road game against the Mariners, he was presented with those bullet points. A smile crept across the center fielder's face.

"You did it," Almora said. "I was testing you. You passed."

Then, during Monday's 16-12 win against Seattle, Almora connected for an RBI single in each of his first two at-bats and then launched a two-run homer in his third.

Last season was a mentally draining one for Almora, who will turn 26 in April. After hitting at a .291 clip across the '17-18 campaigns, he hit .236 with a .651 OPS in 130 games for the Cubs last year. Within that showing, Almora produced a .213/.254/.278 slash line against left-handed pitchers, hindering how Chicago could best utilize him.

By the time the season concluded with the Cubs out of the postseason picture, Almora was admittedly dejected and searching for answers. He said he needed time to "disconnect" when the offseason began, leaning on his close circle of trusted family and friends to help pull him out of a downward mental spiral.

"There's people that have always been there," Almora said. "It's just me listening and actually opening up to new advice that really I opened up to this year. ... It was an important year in my life that I needed to go through and experience."

For his swing, Almora was not sure at first what he needed to change, but he knew he had to change something. He considered flying to California to consult with one hitting guru, but then found another -- Ricardo Sosa of Team Sosa -- suggested by his father near home in the Miami area. Sosa has worked with J.D. Martinez and a growing list of other big leaguers.

Almora also sought the advice of his friend Danny Santiesteban, who is a hitting coach in the Braves' Minor League system. Santiesteban had visited with Almora in June of last year, when the Cubs were in L.A. to play the Dodgers. They talked hitting into the early morning hours and discussed some of the changes Almora is now employing.

"It was too hard to change something during the season," Almora said. "During the year, you have a mindset, and it's tough. But in the offseason, I was trying to slow everything down and I bought into what both of those guys were saying."

Both Sosa and Santiesteban were in agreement that Almora should work on simplifying some of the elements in his swing. The purpose behind the adjustments was to strip Almora of the constant feeling that he had to have so many moving parts in perfect sync in order to be in a position to hit. If one thing was off, or the pitch thrown was not the one Almora expected, he felt like his swing would fall apart.

Almora's goal with the revamped swing setup is to arrive to his hitting position with enough time to adjust and react with the pitch. If he can get to that part of his swing more consistently and with calmed movements, then he will have a little more time to read the pitch and respond accordingly.

"It's not to worry about timing," Almora explained. "Not to be guessing or feeling like you have to be perfect for your swing to be right there. Having this alleviates my mind a little bit. I can see the ball coming. See the ball, hit the ball. I have a little bit more time to react."

Almora added that he has overhauled his routine for batting practice or when he is getting work in inside the cage. He feels that improving his daily preparation -- something he felt slipped last season -- can also help him trust his swing when he gets into the batter's box.

"I just have a different plan," Almora said. "Like I've said, I'm not sitting here saying I've figured it out, because no one here has figured it out. But, I just feel like I'm taking the right steps mentally."

Now, the 2020 season is the test that Almora needs to pass.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.