Rozner: Cubs' Almora has earned chance to play every day

  • Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. had 65 starts during the regular season. He hopes to get the change to become an everyday player next season.

    Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. had 65 starts during the regular season. He hopes to get the change to become an everyday player next season. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. hit .298 this season in 299 at-bats. While he wants to play every game, "I'll just do what I'm told," he says.

    Chicago Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. hit .298 this season in 299 at-bats. While he wants to play every game, "I'll just do what I'm told," he says. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/20/2017 4:02 PM

Joe Maddon has his guys. To be fair, all managers do.

Analytics or not, they have players they want to get in the lineup and players who struggle to find at-bats.

 

Albert Almora seems to always be among the latter.

He has never been one of Maddon's guys, which is unfortunate because Almora is a brilliant defensive player who can't fully develop his offensive game until he's given a chance to play every day.

That's no easy task for the manager when Jason Heyward is penciled in right field and Kyle Schwarber might go back to playing every day in left.

Maddon really likes Ian Happ, he fell in love with Jon Jay, and he insists on getting old friend Ben Zobrist in there somewhere, even if it means sacrificing defense at second or in the outfield.

Nice problem to have. The more options the better.

But it probably means somebody gets traded in the off-season as the Cubs look for the pieces they need to get back to the World Series.

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Nevertheless, Almora should be playing every day because he has a chance to be a terrific player.

After the Cubs completed their season Thursday night, Almora said he wants to be in the lineup for 162 next year.

"I'm a competitor. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to," said the 23-year-old Almora. "I love to play. I love to win.

"Yeah, that's obviously the goal, to be an everyday major-league player."

To be completely clear, Almora was merely answering a question. He was not complaining about his at-bats or criticizing Maddon.

The Cubs manager also wouldn't want Almora here if he didn't want to play every day, and if Almora wasn't confident in his ability the Cubs never would have drafted him No. 6 overall in 2012.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"You work hard your whole life to get here and you dream of playing every day here," Almora said. "I didn't work hard all these years to be a part-time guy.

"But that's out of my control."

In 299 at-bats in 2017 with 65 starts, Almora hit .298 with a .338 on-base and an OPS of .782. Against lefties, he batted .342 with an .898 OPS, and against righties he hit .271 with a .711 OPS. But he will only improve his splits if he faces righties regularly.

"Albert hits lefties. He really does a nice job of that," Maddon said during the NLCS, when Almora blasted a homer off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. "He's been swinging the bat really well. Bully for him.

"If you look at his numbers during the course of the season, he's pretty much been that guy, though he's gotten better against righties recently.

"He's playing at a high level. He's slowed the game down. Moving forward, he's going to be a really good, everyday major-league player."

Half of Almora's 8 home runs were against righties, and he believes he can handle pitchers from either side.

"I'm happy with the way I grew this year in the role I was in," Almora said, "and I'm grateful to the organization for the opportunity."

So what else does Almora have to do to get the chance to play regularly?

"I can't think about it that way or I'll drive myself crazy at night," Almora said. "I just have to keep working.

"I play hard and work hard and I stay ready, and I'll come back next year ready to do whatever I'm asked. It's not under my control, so I'll just do what I'm told to do."

Maybe next year he'll be told to play every day.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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