Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: How Yency Almonte can impact Cubs’ bullpen, plus some prospect fun

2 months agoAndy Martinez

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MESA, Ariz. — Cubs reliever Yency Almonte would never be confused with a fortune teller, but he’s also not oblivious.

So, when he was working out at the Dodgers complex in Glendale last month and saw a text message from Los Angeles’ general manager Brandon Gomes, he had an inkling of what was going on.

“Me joking around, I told the strength coach Eric Yavarone, I was like ‘Bro, I’m gone,’” Almonte recalled. “Sure enough I went and talked to Brandon, two minutes later I came back in and I was like, ‘See ya. Got traded to the Cubs.’”

Almonte didn’t know much about the team — the time zones and the fact that the Cubs play many day games mean he didn’t see too many of his new team’s games.

“I know of Adbert Alzolay ‘cause I played against him in the minor leagues and I saw the success he had last year and Julian Merryweather was another guy who the Cubs relied on last year,” Almonte said. “Just seeing how they go about their business, I wanna hopefully add to that and be a resource for the team to maybe pitch some high-leverage innings or whatever they need me to do.”

A quick phone call, though, let him know he wasn’t entering totally unchartered waters.

“So, when I first got traded, probably a couple hours later Darren Holmes the bullpen coach here called me and he goes, ‘Hey Yenc, are you a Cubbie?’ and I was like, ‘yeah, I just got traded.’ And he goes, ‘I’m a Cubbie,’” Almonte said. “I was like, ‘Oh, dude that’s sick, I have a familiar face.’ He was my bullpen coach my rookie year in Colorado in 2018.

“So, having him here, it took some weight off my shoulders ‘cause I’m gonna have someone I’ve worked with in the past.”

Almonte’s addition gives the Cubs some veteran presence and another option for manager Craig Counsell to rely upon.

He hopes that 2024 will provide more of a resemblance of who he really is as a pitcher. He posted a 5.06 ERA a year ago and dealt with injuries that caused him to miss nearly the last two months of the season.

“I feel like last season was not me at all. I feel like I was fighting myself rather than just going out and pitching,” Almonte said. “A successful season would be obviously healthy for all 162 and hopefully throw 60+ innings or appearances. That’s a good goal for me.”

A new pitch, he hopes, can help unlock that potential and make him a key cog in the Cubs’ reliever corps. He struggled against lefties last season (.841 OPS) and has been working in the offseason to find a way to combat that.

“I also learned a cutter last season. I didn’t really throw it much, but I’m trying to bring it out this year,” Almonte said. “I’ve been working with Tommy [Hottovy] and Darren just to make sure I get a good feel for it. Right now, it feels like it’s in a really good place, but obviously, we’ll see when we face hitters.”

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Cactus League opener

Friday afternoon marks the Cactus League opener for the Cubs. Jordan Wicks will take the bump against the White Sox and the Cubs are excited to build off just live batting practice sessions.

“It’s kind of the first day, the next step,” Counsell said Thursday. “So got four good days of the live BPs, got multiple pitchers again today stretched out to like an up and down.

“Couple guys out there for the second time. So yeah ready for the next step, putting some fielders out there.”

At least a trio of Cubs big leaguers will be in Friday’s starting lineup — Christopher Morel and Ian Happ are expected to play, and Miguel Amaya is set to catch.

Live BP

The prospects stole the show during live batting practice on the backfields.

Outfielder Owen Caissie homered off Kyle Hendricks, then hit a ball to the right-center gap off Hector Neris. He hit a fly ball to center in his last at-bat against the veteran reliever.

Matt Shaw, the Cubs’ first-round pick last year, singled off Neris in his first at-bat then hit a ball to the gap against him during their second go-around. Alexander Canario had a homer against Hendricks and Brennen Davis took Neris deep, too.

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