Ostrowski: Finding a place to play Almora

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comAlbert Almora Jr. of the Chicago Cubs laughs with teammates before a spring-training workout at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona.

    Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comAlbert Almora Jr. of the Chicago Cubs laughs with teammates before a spring-training workout at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona.

  • Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.comAlbert Almora Jr.

    Bruce Miles/bmiles@dailyherald.comAlbert Almora Jr.

  • Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. (5) leaps to make a catch of the ball hit by Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

    Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. (5) leaps to make a catch of the ball hit by Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

 
By Joe Ostrowski
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 4/15/2017 10:16 PM

Joe Maddon's most difficult task on a daily basis is deciding what to do with center field, right field and second base.

And Albert Almora isn't making things easier for the Chicago Cubs manager.

 

In a limited role and small sample size, Almora has been the team's best player after two weeks. The outfielder started only three of the club's first 10 games but has seen the field seven times.

Almora leads the Cubs with 0.6 wins above replacement. Not impressed? That puts him on pace to be a 10-win player, while being in a three-man center field rotation. Mike Trout was the only player in baseball with a 10 WAR last season. Kris Bryant led the National League at 7.7.

Of course, nobody expects Almora to continue to lead the Cubs in batting average, on-base percentage, and on-base plus slugging. But there's no reason to believe his stellar defense and smart play will stop.

Happy birthday, Albert Almora. He turns 23 on Sunday, but was 22 when he was called on to pinch run for Kyle Schwarber in Game 7 of the World Series. Before scoring the go-ahead run on Ben Zobrist's double, Almora's baseball intellect was on display when he tagged up from first base on a Kris Bryant flyball.

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Before Bryant and Schwarber, Almora was the first draft pick of the Theo Epstein era. The Cubs selected the 18-year-old out of high school in 2012 ahead of shortstops Addison Russell and Corey Seager.

Jason McLeod, Cubs vice president of player development and amateur scouting, explained their belief in Almora five years ago.

"If you look at the total package of Albert, he has the ability to no doubt play in the major leagues, but it's also the makeup and work ethic, how he carries himself and the leadership he's shown."

That's a running theme for future Cubs drafts.

When the Cubs signed Jon Jay in November, the expectation was an Almora-Jay platoon in center field. With Schwarber playing every day in left field, the only way to get both Baez and Zobrist in the lineup is by moving Jason Heyward to center.

Baez has proved to be the game's best defensive second baseman. Zobrist was the World Series MVP and also happens to be the team's best contact hitter on pitches inside and outside of the strike zone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Is Almora forcing Maddon's hand like Baez did a year ago?

Not yet.

"It's not easy in the best possible way," Maddon told us on WSCR 670-AM The Score. "We have a lot of different options. His time is going to come and he's going to be out there all the time."

Almora is doing his best to make sure that time is now. If this keeps up, the Cubs will have to bench a lot of free-agent dollars.

• Catch Joe Ostrowski and Barry Rozner on their "Hit & Run" baseball show each Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to noon on WSCR 670-AM. Follow Joe on Twitter JoeO670.

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