New school of thought benefits Almora Jr.

June 15th, 2016

WASHINGTON -- Pedro Strop remembers how rookies were treated his first year in 2009 with the Rangers. They couldn't ride the team bus, but they had to get to the ballpark early and get their work done so they weren't in the way of the veterans. Strop called it an "old school" way of thinking.

That's not how the Cubs think.

The Cubs' rookies are treated like everyone else, and that approach paid off last season for Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, and it has helped Albert Almora Jr. this year. On Tuesday night, Almora delivered a tie-breaking RBI double with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Cubs to a 4-3 victory over the Nationals.

"How about Almora? The guy's been here for five minutes and goes up there and he's not passive," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He jumped on the first pitch, and I loved it."

Almora connected against Sammy Solis, whom he played against in the Arizona Fall League.

"It was quick," Almora said of his at-bat. "We looked at each other and I gave him a little nod with the helmet, and it was time to go to work. He made a good pitch, and I tried to stay up the middle, and it fell for me."

The hit came in Almora's first at-bat of the game -- he entered in left field in a double switch in the eighth -- and only his 12th big league at-bat. He was promoted from Triple-A on June 7 when Jorge Soler was sidelined with a strained hamstring.

"He's a good kid, and he's fit in well with this team," Strop said. "We're a pretty free team, not old-school style. Just be yourself, be who you are and help the team win. That's good because the way Joe handles the situation, we have good veterans here, and they don't care about old-school stuff. Just be who you are and help us win the World Series, that's what it's all about."

There were plenty of rules in Strop's rookie season, such as not being able to tilt his cap to the side or making sure the veterans were first on the massage table.

"It was a bunch of stuff, stuff that doesn't matter in a game -- that's what I mean by 'old school,'" Strop said. "I don't care if you're 21 years old. If that massage is going to help us win, get it."

Almora, 22, is just hoping to make the Cubs' decision tough when Soler is ready to return.

"This guy has made a lot of nice adjustments over the last couple years," Maddon said of the outfielder, who is ranked No. 78 on MLBPipeline's top 100 prospects. "He's already established himself as a good teammate. This kid is going to be playing in the big leagues for a long time."

Maddon can tell just by talking to Almora that he's comfortable in the Majors.

"He's not up there in a hurry," Maddon said of Almora's approach. "He's very confident. The thing I look at is, 'Can you talk to the guy?' When you talk to him, is he focused on what you're saying? Can he process what you're saying? He easily can. It's like we're talking now. That's what he's like in the heat of the moment."

Almora has one goal.

"I'm just trying to do anything I can to help this team win," the rookie said. "If I do that, it makes my job easier. I can sleep well at night, saying, 'I left it all on the table.' Whatever they choose to do [with the roster], I don't care. I'm here to help the team win."

That sounds like a veteran.