Cubs Acquire Target With Almora Pick

CHICAGO—For years, vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, scouting director Tim Wilken and the Cubs' Florida scouts had seen Albert Almora's sweet swing and relentless approach at the plate. But they saw something else in the months before the draft—the backyard batting cage, the 20-foot rope that Almora flies up and the outdoor pull-up bar that has helped him gain upper body strength.

President Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and McLeod chatted with Almora's parents in his Hialeah Gardens, Fla., home, and they couldn't imagine taking anyone else if the Team USA fixture was available.

Almora was, and the Cubs took the center fielder from Mater Academy with the sixth pick overall. It appears to be a good marriage between a player who is known as a grinder and a front office that made its reputation by working endless hours.

"He is a driven person,'' McLeod said. "He cares about himself, cares about winning, cares about putting his team in front of himself.''

Almora hit .603/.667/1.164 (44-for-73) with 13 doubles, five triples, six home runs and 34 RBIs in 25 games for Mater Academy last season, drawing 14 walks compared to only three strikeouts. He also stole 24 bases in 25 attempts. He has saved some of his best baseball for Team USA during his high school years, however, playing in six international events. He was MVP of the 18-and-under Pan-American Games in Colombia last year, and was named USA Baseball's athlete of the year.

"We scouted Albert extensively throughout his career and he fit the criteria we were looking for," McLeod said. "He has multiple tools across the board, and an incredible work ethic. We are looking forward to seeing him start his career."

The Cubs took Almora even though Stanford ace Mark Appel was available. They stuck to their pre-draft strategy rather than risk blowing their whole signing budget on Appel.

"We have a process in how we evaluate and select,'' McLeod said. "Certainly we saw Mark Appel a lot this spring. He's a very talented young man, and we wish the Pittsburgh Pirates well.''

Why Almora, not Appel?

"For us it's not to compare the two players,'' McLeod said. "We know who we were looking for, who we had done the due diligence on. It was going to be Albert or one of two other players (even if someone like Appel fell). Albert was the guy we wanted.''
McLeod knows that Almora will be seen as a headliner in Epstein's rebuilding of the Cubs' operation. He believes he's mentally tough enough to handle the responsibility.
"There is something to being Theo Epstein's first (Cubs) pick, our first draft here,'' McLeod said. "That's going to subside pretty quickly. But we feel he will handle it very well.''