Pipeline Perspectives: Almora's bat makes him best bet
Hitting ability, leadership skills put Cubs outfield prospect ahead of Astros' Springer
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Spring Training games are underway, a glorious time that lets us all know the regular season is within reach. It's also a fantastic time to watch prospects in action in big league camps across Florida and Arizona.
It's an opportunity to see how a good number of the players discussed in our Top 100 Prospects list fare in Grapefruit and Cactus League action. That includes the two outfielders up in this week's Pipeline Perspectives head-to-head challenge: George Springer of the Astros and Albert Almora of the Cubs. The question: Who will be better?
Jim Callis is writing this week that Springer is his guy. Me? I'm going with Almora, though I can't imagine there's a general manager in baseball who wouldn't be happy to have either one.
Clearly, Almora has the Spring Training statistical advantage, with his 1.500 OPS far superior to Springer's 1.083. What's that, you say? They only have five at-bats combined? No matter; I care not about sample sizes.
Almora is ranked higher in the Top 100, No. 18 compared to Springer at No. 21, though Houston will reap the benefits of having Springer in the big league lineup well ahead of the Cubs with Almora. Springer's power-speed combination is exciting, but while both outfielders got overall 60 grades, I think Almora grades out just a touch better. Springer's power (70 to Almora's 55) and speed (60 vs. 50) are thought of more highly, but Almora has him in every other category: bat (65 to 55), arm (65 to 60) and fielding (75 to 60).
It's that bat grade that gives me the best argument, I think. We haven't been able to see too much of Almora, as injuries limited him to just 61 games in 2013. But he did hit .329 in that span. Then Almora went to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some lost time and hit .307 there. The guy just hits.
The one concern with Springer, on the other hand, has been with his ability to hit. Yes, he's hit .299 with a .394 on-base percentage thus far in his pro career. But in Springer's two full seasons of Minor League play, he struck out 156 and 161 times. I'm not one to be overly concerned with strikeouts, but that's a lot of whiffs. Springer is going to be a productive big leaguer, but you can't help but wonder a little if the swing-and-miss part of his game will keep him from reaching his potential, which is reflected in that 70 power grade, or reach base often enough to use that 60 speed on the basepaths.
Those types of concerns don't exist with Almora. His tools aren't as loud, maybe, but I think few believe he won't perform up to his projections. And if a grade were given out for makeup, Almora might get a 90 on the 20-80 scouting scale (though, to be fair, Springer has outstanding makeup as well). The Cubs clearly thought highly enough of that to send Almora to the AFL at age 19. They knew he wouldn't be adversely affected by failure and that his work ethic would help him compete.
Almora is a natural leader, a veteran of international play with USA Baseball, the kind of player teammates will gravitate to, even if he's younger. Those intangibles will also allow him to play above his tools. Almora is the kind of player who invariably ends up on winning teams, and while I understand that this game is all about production, that's why I'd be tempted to want him on any team I was constructing if I were a GM.