The name’s got a slightly different connotation now, but I remember when Prince Albert was just a brand of tobacco that spawned a popular joke. It’s corny as hell and I didn’t understand its context at all as a little kid, but I knew that it made my Grandpap laugh and that’s all I really cared about.
“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Wait for affirmative answer
“Well, you’d better let him out!”
If things keep trending up for the first player drafted by the current front office, the rest of the league is going to be wishing the Cubs had kept a lid on Albert Almora. Requisite caveats for the circumstances of the game and whatnot, but Sunday afternoon gave us a little hint of just how good this kid can be going forward.
Is he going to hit a grand slam and make a highlight-reel catch every game? Of course not, but what Cubs fans are going to find out quickly is just how nice it is to have an elite fielder out in center. At two outfield positions, for that matter. While Dexter Fowler was perfectly adequate during his time in Chicago, Almora is on a whole ‘nother level.
It’s entirely possible that I’m allowing personal bias to color my assessment here, enamored of Almora as I’ve admittedly been for a few years now. More than seeing him hit for the cycle with high-A Daytona or lacing a double into a shifted outfield and later scoring the winning run with AA Tennessee, there’s something unquantifiably special about this kid.
Those of you who’ve been reading CI for a while now might have heard this story already, but I’m going to share it anyway because it’s still cool. During that same game in which he cycled, Almora had a chance to seal a victory with a diving catch. It was the kind of play that would have merited an easy 5-star rating under Statcast’s new catch probability metric, a gap shot that the young outfielder had no business getting to. He did get to it, though, and he got his glove on it.
But whether it was the force of landing from his dive or the ball not being completely settled, Almora couldn’t haul it in and the game-tying runs crossed the plate. As he came in from the field, you could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. He took off his glove and threw it against the dugout wall, letting loose a torrent of bilingual bad words at the same time.
You might think it’s odd that a non-play and subsequent string of profanity are what told me Almora was going to be special, and I’d tend to agree with you under normal circumstances. What’s not odd, however, is the fire I saw in him in that moment. There’s more to being a successful professional athlete than just physical prowess, as we’ve seen innumerable times in the past. I saw in that moment a player who was unwilling to fail.
Almora’s just a gamer. He’s got…clears throat, looks both ways, lowers voice…T…clears throat again, now speaking in croaky whisper…TWTW. Ugh, I feel like I should take a shower after saying that. Still, it was no surprise that Almora was the author of a huge heads-up play late in Game 7 that help the Cubs put on the crown at last. That was as a role player, but his projections make me feel pretty good about the assessment I made a year ago.
We’re not talking about a guy who’s ever going to put up monster numbers at the plate; think a .275 hitter with a pedestrian OBP and 15 or so homers. He may not even make an All-Star team. But the glove — oh boy, the glove — that will always play. Almora won’t accept less than perfection in the field and his baseball-rat mentality is going to endear him to teammates regardless of what the stats say.
So when people ask me if I think Prince Albert can, I say yes. And I can’t wait for the Cubs to really let him out.