Had it been played a few months later, Sunday’s laugher might have been dubbed The Albert Almora Game. As it is, the contest was over as soon as the bottom half of the 1st inning began. That’s when Anthony Rizzo, batting leadoff because he wanted to, absolutely rawked the first pitch he saw from Tim Adelman out into the Nevada desert. The moonshot damn near brought rain, a development the Reds probably would have preferred.
Seven of the next eight Cubs batters reached base, six on hits, and the deluge of runs was on. Kris Bryant doubled, Kyle Schwarber walked, then Chesny Young and Victor Caratini doubled in front of consecutive singles from John Andreoli and Eddie Butler. But between War Bear and Young, cleanup-hitting Almora hammered the first of his two home runs on the day.
Almora homered again to lead off the Cubs half of the 6th and then the wheels fell right off the haphazard wagon in which the Reds were riding. After a series of hits and errors, Bijan Rademacher smacked a grand slam and officially turned this one into a bad joke. Imagine buying tickets to a legit Vegas show only to find that the headliner had been replaced by Yakof Smirnoff.
The Reds are just not a very good team, but I’ll give them this: They have done a phenomenal job of developing prospects who are quite adept at Reds-ing.
Which brings us back to Almora, the first draft pick of the this front office’s regime and the last of his peers to debut with the Cubs. Whether it was the extended — by recent Cubs standards — matriculation period, his anemic walk rate, or his elite glove, Almora was never viewed as much of an offensive threat. The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder whether some more nefarious rationale is at play.
We Cubs fans are used to prospects not panning out, so lamenting past disappointments is kind of our jam. I don’t care how positive you are, I guarantee you rattle off a list of Next Big Things you read about in Vine Line. While the success of the current crop of young players has lasered off the crappy tattoos of bygone busts, you can still see the ghosted images and light scarring they left behind. And I kinda think that old confirmation bias might be affecting some views of Almora.
It’s almost as though we need someone to wash out or fail to live up to expectations just to show us that this isn’t too good to be true. And perhaps that’ll happen with Almora and he’ll be nothing more than a glove-first centerfielder whose modest offensive production is but a luxury. Or perhaps he’ll be a lot better than you think. And I’m talking about those of us who already thought he was going to be really good.
When I took a look at how Almora stacked up against recent World Series-winning centerfielders, the results were highly favorable. And that was last year, before he showed up to camp with a little extra muscle and the same defensive prowess. Dude’s gonna open a few eyes with both the bat and the glove this season. Think Kevin Kiermaier with more pop.
Is he going to walk a lot? No. Will his high swing and contact rates sometimes result in weak grounders to the left side? Sure. But the burgeoning power and that Gold Glove-caliber defense he provides will more than make up for any deficiencies. The more I see of Almora, the more I think he’ll have removed his Jon Jay training wheels by June at the latest.
And he may even have fans asking, “Dexter who?” by the end of the season.