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Comfortable and focused, Albert Almora Jr. is far from satisfied

4 years agoTony Andracki

PEORIA, Ariz. – Albert Almora Jr. has stepped into the batter’s box five times this spring and five times, he’s reached base safely.

He doubled and walked in Saturday’s Cactus League opener and then singled twice and hit a 2-run homer in Monday’s game against the Mariners.

It’s an extremely small sample size and these games don’t count, but for a guy who entered the offseason with serious question marks surrounding his offense, Almora and the Cubs couldn’t dream of a better start.

But don’t think for one second Almora is satisfied with the results or believes the swing changes he’s made – he’s less upright/rigid and not quite as open in his stance as he was last season – are a finished product.

“It’s been a mixture of both [mental and physical adjustments],” Almora said. “I may have had two good games, but I’m far from where I want to be. I could speak for all the hitters as well. This is Day 2 of a 200-day marathon, so I just want to stay healthy and have a great mindset the whole time.”

Almora said he feels comfortable with his swing adjustments and he’s not thinking about his mechanics but he’s watching a lot of video and working on his approach.

“If you talk to any hitter, your swing is never gonna be perfect all the time,” he said. “But I just want my mind to be alright going into every at-bat and just trusting what I worked on before the game.”

Early in camp, Almora said he felt “more organized” and admitted his 2019 campaign was not a positive season on a personal or team level.

“We didn’t get to the playoffs and that’s a big no-no,” he said. “For myself, it wasn’t to my standards and I hold myself to a high standard. I definitely put in the work to try to correct things and I’m in a good mental spot right now and that’s all I can really ask for.”

Almora, who turns 26 in April, posted career lows in batting average (.236), on-base percentage (.271) and OPS (.651) last season. He flashed a bit more home-run power (career high 12 longballs), but 7 of those blasts came in the first two months of the season and he notched only 8 extra-base hits in his final 77 games.

A lot of that could be tied to his aggressive approach (only 30 MLB hitters saw fewer pitches per plate appearance last season) and his soaring groundball rate (career high 53.1 percent), but Almora has been open and honest this spring about his need to improve his mindset and mental approach. He believes the adjustments between the ears will be just as valuable as the change in mechanics or batting stance.

“I wasn’t in a good place mentally [last season],” he said. “The team wasn’t going to where it needed to and that obviously sucks. My performance wasn’t where I wanted it to be as well. I didn’t think the way I was going about the day was the correct way, in regards to getting prepared for a game and little things like that.

“It’s the little things that matter in this game. The outcome – good or bad – you can turn the page a lot easier if you prepare the right way. I learned a lot this offseason.”

Again, it’s only two exhibition games, so it’s far too early to announce 2020 The Year of Almora or anything like that.

But the early returns and adjustments are at least a step in the right direction as he battles with Ian Happ for the everyday centerfielder job.

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