Cubs' Almora gifted with abundance of baseball sense
MESA, Ariz. -- Call it what you will: baseball acumen, baseball IQ or baseball sense.
Some players are blessed with an overabundance of it and some aren't.
The Chicago Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. is a baseball IQ prodigy.
Look no further than Game 7 of the 2016 World Series at Cleveland's Progressive Field. Kyle Schwarber led off the 10th inning with a single and was replaced as a pinch runner by Almora, a 22-year old rookie who had all of 47 games of regular-season major-league experience entering the postseason.
The next batter, Kris Bryant, flied out to deep center field. Instead of going halfway down the baseline, Almora tagged up at first and advanced to second after the catch. That's a veteran move, not a rookie move.
After the Indians walked Anthony Rizzo intentionally, Ben Zobrist doubled to left field to score Almora, and the Cubs went on to a thrilling 8-7 victory.
"The baseball IQ, I've had the gift, thank God," Almora said Thursday before the Cubs held a light workout. "Also, when I've gone to professional baseball, I've had a lot of help, a lot of guys. Just overall, (Cubs coach) Dave Martinez in the big leagues with the outfield work. I've got (right fielder) Jason Heyward next to me helping me out.
"I've been blessed. I've had a lot of great players and people help me out. I also have my father, who's taught me the game of baseball since I was 3½ years old. I've just had a lot of help, and I'm a student of the game. I love learning. I always listen to everybody, and I pick what I feel would help me personally. So it's been really good. Along with some gifts, I've also been a great listener. I loved the game, and I love learning."
Almora, the current Cubs regime's first draft pick, in 2012, made his major-league debut last June before going back to Class AAA Iowa for more seasoning. He came back in September, and the Cubs thought enough of him to make him a part of the postseason roster, mainly for his outfield defense, which can best be described as authoritative.
Manager Joe Maddon also sees the high baseball IQ.
"He likes to talk, just in general, just about baseball," Maddon said. "He has a really good awareness of what's going on out there. Definitely loves to play, man. This kid loves to play, loves to be part of this, is always looking for growth. He's always looking to get better at different things. It's always entertaining and enjoyable to be with him. He's all about that.
"Coming from Miami and his background, he's a baseball junkie. He's really bright."
Speaking of Miami, the Cubs will have a pair of Miami guys sharing center field this year after the departure of Dexter Fowler to St. Louis via free agency.
In the off-season, the Cubs signed veteran Jon Jay to a free-agent contract. Jay and Almora are workout buddies in Miami, so Jay knows all about the kid's baseball smarts.
"I think it's just the intangible of being a baseball player," Jay said. "I think if you talk to him, maybe he picked that up growing up in Miami, where baseball is serious. We were taught the fundamentals of the game and just to do the little things right, and everything was so competitive."
Hence, Jay was not surprised by Almora's heads-up baserunning play in Game 7.
"I said, 'Man, he probably did that in high school or even when he was 13 years old or something like' that because that's what we were taught when we were younger," he said. "That's obviously a great sign to see. It was a huge play during the World Series."
There figures to be no tension between Jay and Almora about playing time because they are friends. The Cubs expect Jay to continue mentoring Almora.
As for Almora, he's growing up fast. He became a father last season, so that's changed things just a bit.
"How hasn't it changed me?" he said with a smile. "It just puts things into perspective. Baseball is a game of failure, and you have your 0-for-4s, you have your bad games. But when you get home and you see your son, he doesn't know anything about that. He doesn't care about that. He just cares that you're home and you're going to be with him. So it puts things into perspective for sure."
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