Once again the Cubs wait.
A decade and a half ago, they waited for Corey Patterson.
A few years later, they waited for Felix Pie.
Now they wait for Albert Almora.
The soon-to-be 20-year-old Almora is the latest in the line of Cubs center-field prospects that began with the drafting of Patterson in 1998. This time, the Cubs hope it takes.
Almora isn't ready yet, and he might not be until sometime in 2015. He played for the Kane County Cougars last year, but nagging injuries limited him to 61 games. Even so, he put up a productive line of .329/.376/.466 with 17 doubles, 4 triples and 3 home runs over 272 plate appearances.
"From a personal standpoint, you want to get here as fast as you can," Almora said last month at the Cubs' rookie development camp at Northwestern University. "My goal is to be here for the big leagues, but it's whenever they think I'm ready, and whenever they call my name, I'll be ready, and I'm going show what I've got."
Almora was the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2012. He has just 94 games of professional baseball experience, so he won't be rushed.
For the foreseeable future, the Cubs will go with a platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano in center.
Sweeney, a second-round pick of the White Sox in 2003, came up last year and got into 70 games, putting up a line of .266/.324/.448 with 6 homers and 19 RBI. He missed two months in the heart of the season after crashing into the wall in Seattle and breaking a rib.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Sweeney brings plenty of size and athletic ability, which no doubt made the White Sox like him enough to draft him high. Sweeney also has played for the Athletics and Red Sox, compiling a wins above replacement (WAR) of 2.9 for the A's in 2009.
"A former top prospect with size and an attractive lefty swing, Sweeney's much-anticipated Power Bat Accessory Kit was finally delivered last summer -- 10 years late, and to the wrong Chicago address," writes the 2014 edition of Baseball Prospectus. "Watching the former White Sox farmhand post something resembling a big boy slugging percentage while roaming Wrigley's center pasture must have rankled a few fans on the South Side, but let's not get carried away here: 6 home runs and 21 extra-base hits do not a Jim Edmonds make. Sweeney has a patient approach and showed the Cubs enough defensive versatility and offensive near-adequacy to earn a two-year, $3.5 million deal."
The right-handed hitting part of the platoon will be Ruggiano, whom the Cubs obtained in a trade with the Marlins for Brian Bogusevic.
Ruggiano provides a most interesting study in stats.
Last year with the Marlins, he put up a line of .222/.298/.396 with a respectable 18 home runs and 50 RBI.
Contrast that to went he went .313/.374/.535 with 13 homers and 36 RBI in 2012. His OPS went from .909 to .694 in a year's time, and his OPS-plus went from a gigantic 142 to a below-average 90. Add it up, and Ruggiano had a WAR of 2.9 in 2012 but just a replacement-level WAR of 0.1 in 2013.
The difference? Most likely it came from the stat of batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In 2012, Ruggiano's BABIP was an astronomical -- and unsustainable -- .401. That meant that a whole lot of balls he put into play fell for basehits.
Usually, a BABIP will "normalize" at about .300, but the baseball gods caught up with Ruggiano big time last year, as the BABIP fell to .260.
The Cubs will gladly take some normal "normalization" this year.
Or as Baseball Prospectus put it: "Asking someone to repeat a .400 BABIP is like asking the Godfather for two favors on the day of his daughter's wedding. ... His walk rate, strikeout rate, home run rate, contact rate, swinging-strike rate all remained nearly identical to the previous season, but Ruggiano's magic beans didn't grow perennials.
"That said, he's a good player to have around until the Cubs' outfield of the future blossoms into full-time players, and his ability to play center field in a pinch makes him a useful reserve even without the magic beans."