Chicago Cubs: Offense hurting due to struggling Almora

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Albert Almora, Jr. was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Chicago Cubs but he has not developed into the everyday player they hoped he’d be.

The Chicago Cubs let Dexter Fowler walk via free agency after the 2016 season with the hope that 2012 first-round draft pick, Albert Almora, Jr, would step into the everyday role. Almora had been platooning centerfield with 2015 first-round draft pick, Ian Happ, but Happ struggled mightily with strikeouts in both 2017 and 2018.

He was trending in that direction again in spring training and the team decided it was best that he start the year in Triple-A Iowa. Without Happ to provide support, Almora’s offensive deficiencies have been glaring this season.

After totaling a career-high 479 at-bats in 152 games last season, Almora is on pace for almost 515 at-bats this season. Through Sunday, he is slashing just 0.249/0.290/0.402 with a wRC+ of just 77.

Among batters in the MLB, the league average for OPS is 0.751. Almora’s 0.682 OPS has been underwhelming to say the least. He’s always been a guy that is not going to walk a lot as his career average is just slightly better than 5 percent of all plate appearances.

Last season, Almora finished with a 0.701 OPS but hit for a much higher average (0.286). He was used pretty frequently as Joe Maddon‘s leadoff man in 2018, batting 0.333 there. He and Javier Baez made a nice 1-2 punch, forming the nickname “Al-Mago”. This season, he’s batted leadoff in just 9 games but has hit for a 0.279 average.

Kyle Schwarber has taken over the leadoff role this year which has moved Almora all the way down to the bottom of the order where he has hit just 0.200 this season. A big reason for the dip in average is because he’s hitting groundballs at a career-high 55.2 percent and generally with soft-contact.

Needless to say, of all groundballs he’s hit this season, they have resulted in just a 0.208 average versus 0.290 last year. Perhaps, defenses have shifted on him this season based on last season’s stats or he’s just not seeing good pitches that far down in the order.

I’m not entirely sure what the solution is going forward given Happ is hitting just 0.225 and still striking out at a 28 percent clip in Triple-A. Almora is will likely continue to be the everyday centerfielder but he’s hitting just 0.182 with runners-in-scoring-position. Yes, the entire blame is not on Almora’s shoulders but these numbers are pretty shocking considering how well he hit last year, especially in the first half.

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He’s been terrific with the glove but you’d like to get more out of him than just a defensive specialist. The Cubs and Almora will have to make the necessary adjustments so he can be successful because, right now, he’s been pretty lousy in 2019.