By Mark Grote–
(CBS) Cubs third basemen Kris Bryant is well on his way to becoming a made man, and fellow infielder Addison Russell is like a precious metal that still needs a little polishing and shaping. It’s all beginning to justify the Theo Epstein plan — lose a ton of games in order to acquire elite young talent — while minor league slugger Kyle Schwarber is expected to further strengthen it.
But what about Epstein’s first born? With the sixth overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft, Epstein selected high school outfielder Albert Almora out of Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Almora’s current at Double-A Tennessee, where he’s hitting .250 with two homers, 13 RBIs, 27 runs and a .621 OPS through 43 games.
“Unfortunately, he’s had a couple of injuries this year, and hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently for three or four week stretches at a time,” Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said.
Injuries have certainly played a part in the hype decrescendo of Almora, but it also sounds like Almora is in the midst of an approach makeover.
“Albert has always been a very aggressive swinger,” McLeod said. “He’s a guy that makes contact at a high rate. So, now that he’s with Schwarber and (first basemen) Dan Vogelbach, I think he’s seeing the approach those guys bring to the plate where it’s more ‘let me wait for my pitch that I’m going to hammer.’”
That’s the essence of the Cubs’ teachings in their minor league system: Work the count and be patient. Anthony Rizzo and Bryant are believers, and you can see it playing out at the big league level.
Manny talks showboating
Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro recently took some criticism for his slow ride around the bases after hitting a home run in Miami. Two nights later, Junior Lake took a moment to love on his first homer of the season before he began to trot. To make matters worse, Lake gestured to the Marlins bench as he rounded third. This prompted the benches to clear.
One theory as to why Castro and Lake added extra flair was to show off for hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, who had made the trip to Miami. Ramirez himself wasn’t immune to a little extra body language during his playing days.
So it seemed like a good time to have Ramirez on the Cubs pregame show and ask him a few questions. (It’s always a good time to have Ramirez on the show, to be honest.)
Me: “It’s all your fault. Is that the way it is being portrayed?”
Manny: “No! It’s not my fault! I don’t flip bats! Phooey!”
Me: “OK. What did you think of Lake’s showboating?”
Manny: “There’s a time and place for everything, but in that spot, we were losing, and it’s not the right thing to do.”
I walked away asking, “Did he just drop a phooey on me?”
Hammel continues to be stellar
The Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel starter has had a terrific season so far, going 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA, and on Saturday he continued his dominance of the Washington Nationals, against whom he’s 9-0 in his career. Hammel went eight innings, allowing just two runs.
“You tell me,” Hammel said when asked how he’s dominated the Nationals. “I’m sure there’s some type of research for that? I don’t really know?”
Sometimes luck has even been on Hammel’s side. On Saturday, Rendon clobbered a ball to left field that looked like it would leave the park, but it didn’t. Hammel figured it was gone himself.
“I was waiting for Joe (home plate umpire Joe West) to throw me a new ball and he kept watching it,” Hammel said. “I was like, man, he’s being mean, making me hold this one out, and then I turn around and see the ball being caught. Oh, all right! I’ll take it!”
Maddon being Maddon
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was recently asked if he paid attention to matchup history as it pertains to his hitters against opponents pitchers.
“Not at all, zero,” Maddon said. “We have our own cocktail brewing here.”
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter @markgrotesports.