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posted: 6/4/2012 10:58 PM

Almora 'top player' on Cubs' board

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In the end, Albert Almora proved to be a pretty automatic pick for the Cubs.

The new regime made the 18-year-old center fielder their initial first-round draft pick by taking him with the sixth selection overall Monday.

"The easy answer to that is that he was the top player on our board," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president for scouting and player development. "We've spent a lot of time with Albert and seen him play a lot the last couple of years in high school, being the high-profile player that he was."

In the compensatory round between the first and second rounds -- to compensate teams for losing free agents -- the Cubs addressed an organizational need by taking right-handed pitchers Pierce Johnson out of Missouri State and Paul Blackburn out of Heritage High School in California.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Almora attended Mater Academy Charter in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. During this past season, he batted .603 (44-for-73) with 13 doubles, 5 triples, 6 home runs and 34 RBI in 25 games.

He also has extensive experience with Team USA Baseball. In 2011, he was named USA Baseball's Athlete of the Year after helping the 18-under squad go 9-0 and earn the gold medal in the Pan-Am Games, an event in which he was named tournament MVP. He has been part of six USA national teams.

McLeod said Almora's experience and his character were key reasons for the pick. Last week, the Cubs worked out shortstop Carolos Correa and left-handed pitcher Max Fried at Wrigley Field. Houston made Correa the No. 1 pick overall, and San Diego quickly snapped up Fried one pick after the Cubs.

"He fits the criteria of what we're looking for in terms of a player who can come into this organization and can create impact," McLeod said said of Almora. "If you look at the total package, we feel it certainly takes ability to play in the major leagues, but also the makeup and the work ethic and how he carries himself and the leadership skills he has shown really fit what we're looking for to do here with the Cubs in terms of bringing people into the organization."

As far as Almora's skill set, McLeod said he can contribute both on offense and defense. Baseball America ranked him the No. 2 best pure high school hitter and as having the third-best strike-zone judgment among high-schoolers. He also was ranked No. 1 in being closest to the majors and as a defensive player from the high school ranks.

"We feel he can be a pretty impactful offensive player," McLeod said. "We felt from a batting-average standpoint and having the ability to drive the ball, we felt he would hit for average. We felt he was going to hit for power. Defensively, we feel he is going to stay in center field and have the ability to be one of the better center fielders."

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