Albert Almora is both young and extremely talented. The 18-year-old outfielder was taken sixth overall in this year’s amateur draft, and upon signing became one of the top prospects in the Chicago Cubs system. A right-handed hitting outfielder, he hit .321 between rookie ball and low-A Boise. Showing his inexperience, he logged 15 extra-base hits but walked just twice in 123 plate appearances. Almora, who is lauded by scouts for his instincts and work ethic, talked about his introduction to professional baseball during the final week of the minor-league season.
Almora on instincts and learning the game: “A lot of my instincts come from having played the game all my life. I’ve played since I was three or four years old. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of smart people, and a lot of good players, come by. They’ve given me a lot of hints and worked with me on my game. I’ve been really lucky that way.
“The first thing you have to do is respect the game. That’s first and foremost. A big piece of advice has been that things aren’t always going to be the way you want them to end up. You just have to play the game 100 percent at all times, because you can’t control the rest.”
On studying the opposing pitcher: “We have video here and watch it constantly, every day. I have an iPad and it has what I’ve done against that pitcher multiple times. It helps, of course.
“I like to see the way a pitcher works and how he throws to you — how he’s been placing pitches with you. Stuff like that. Every day is different, but sometimes you have a better idea of what’s going to happen and what he’s going to throw.”
On pitch recognition: “What I’m looking for varies throughout the count. You start out 0-0 and you have to get your pitch, the pitch you know you can do damage with. You can’t swing at his pitch. But I just like to focus on seeing the ball and hitting the ball. If it’s a good pitch that I think I can hit, I’ll swing at it. I’m very aggressive when it comes to that.
“You have to read [the pitch] out of the pitcher’s hand. You can’t just go up there and pretend… I don’t know how to explain it, but the thing is very difficult. You have to see how he’s ending up. Is he ending up tall? Is he ending up down? Are his pitches staying up or going low? Where is his release point? There are a lot of different things.”
On plate discipline: “That’s something I’ve been working on a lot. This is the first year of my professional career and I’ve been very aggressive. I haven’t walked a lot — as much as I need to, or as much as I want to. I’ve just been very aggressive. Anything I’ve been seeing that’s in the strike zone, I’ve been swinging at. That’s been both good and bad.
“For next year, and in instructs, I’m trying to be patient. I want to do a better job of taking pitches and not trying to do damage with everything. I’ve been a little too anxious. There have been ups and downs with this being the first year of my career, but I’m starting to get it. I’m trying to slow the game down as much as possible.
“I’m fortunate to have [hitting coach] Bill Buckner here with me. He’s teaching me and giving me pointers. He’ll come to me, or I’ll go to him. If I‘m doing something, I’ll ask him if it’s working better, or he’ll start talking to me. We have a great relationship and have been working hard together.”
On his pre-game routine and conditioning: “I like to hit off the tee first, then one-hand drills — one-handed short-bat drills — then soft toss. Then I go to live BP. I’ve had that same routine since I’ve been in high school.
“I like doing body weight, but I don’t like doing heavy weights and stuff like that. I’m sure I’m going to have to start, but right now I just concentrate on body weight, like pull ups and pushups. I’m pretty sure that the Cubs have a workout that they’ll want me to do, and I’ll do whatever they want.”
On being a centerfielder: “Ever since I was a little kid, I never liked ground balls. I just liked fly balls. I used to tell my dad, all the time, to hit me fly balls. That’s always stuck with me and it’s the only position I’ve ever played.
“I work on my game. Everything. I work on being an outfielder just as much as I work on hitting. You learn stuff every day. I would hope that my defense is better than my hitting right now, because I think I can improve so much with my hitting. I think my defense is above average right now.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.