Albert Almora Jr. Way Too Grounded Early in 2019
Albert Almora Jr.’s offensive profile is pretty well known at this point. The acrobatic center fielder is a very aggressive hitter, often jumping on pitches early in the count. And though he makes frequent contact, not much of it has come in the form of line drives and fly balls.
About half the balls Almora has put in play over the last two seasons have been on the ground. With a below-average walk rate of around 5%, he has needed a lot of those grounders to find holes to get on base.
Hoping to get more elevation on his contact, Almora worked throughout the winter and spring to adjust his swing and re-incorporate the leg kick he had used when coming up. It looked like the tweaks were working early on as he experienced a Cactus League power surge that saw him launch three homers en route to a .993 OPS.
As with so much else in the Arizona desert, however, the homers appear to have been a mirage. Though Theo Epstein’s first draft pick is generating more hard contact than ever, he is hitting the ball on the ground at a unbelievable rate so far this season. Through 36 at-bats in 2019, a whopping 74.1 percent of Almora’s contact has come on the ground.
Maybe it’s a good thing the Cubs opened on the road, because that kind of beating wouldn’t have been good for Wrigley’s new sod. Making matters worse, Almora’s strikeout rate is sitting at 23 percent after being only 17.3 in 2018 (which had been his high-water mark as a pro). And the power has been completely absent, with singles comprising all eight of his hits.
These numbers have to change soon for Almora to be even a little bit effective at the plate. The Cubs can afford to play him in center as long as he’s close to a league-average hitter, but a 32 wRC+ so far suggests he’s 68% below average. That’s not nice.
With Ian Happ still fighting his own offensive issues in Triple-A Iowa (.226/.273/.323 with no homers), the Cubs are facing center field issue. We’ve already seen how Jason Heyward is shifting over to center frequently as right field becomes a platoon spot, but that weakens the outfield defense at two positions.
Perhaps keeping Almora’s elite glove on the field, even if it’s just to face lefties, is the best of several not great options. Then again, his .063/.118/.063 southpaw slash isn’t exactly heartening. If he can’t figure things out soon, his defense may not be able to keep him in the starting lineup. Or on the roster.