Cubs take Albert Almora with No. 6 pick in MLB draft
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 4, 2012 10:48PM
Center fielder Albert Almora, the Cubs’ top pick.
2012 MLB DRAFT:
THE TOP 15
Team Player Pos. Age
1. HOU Carlos Correa SS 17
2. MIN Byron Buxton OF 18
3. SEA Mike Zunino C 21
4. BAL Kevin Gausman RHP 21
5. KC Kyle Zimmer RHP 20
6. Cubs Albert Almora CF 18
7. SD Max Fried LHP 18
8. PIT Mark Appel RHP 20
9. MIA Andrew Heaney LHP 20
10. COL David Dahl CF 18
11. OAK Addison Russell SS 18
12. NYM Gavin Cecchini SS 18
13. Sox Courtney Hawkins OF 18
14. CIN Nick Travieso RHP 18
15. CLE Tyler Naquin OF 21
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:36AM
If Theo Epstein knows what he’s doing in his efforts to redefine the Cubs and reverse a century of futility, it’ll be up to Albert Almora to prove it.
Maybe it’s not quite that simple.
But this first Cubs draft for Epstein and his handpicked team of front-office officials might be that important for the new team president.
The first season long has been a lost cause, serving only as proof that the new bosses meant what they said when they talked about no quick fixes.
At the top, that means clearing the big-league roster. On the minor-league side, that means days such as this and guys such as Almora, who better be the kind of ‘‘impact’’ prospect the new regime has vowed to pump into the system.
That’s what the promise of Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player-development boss Jason McLeod means on the first big show-me day of their regime — their ‘‘Super Bowl,’’ as McLeod called it last week.
‘‘He’s a guy that early on became a target for us,’’ McLeod said.
The Cubs figure to focus on pitching for much of the remainder of the 40-round draft, which continues through Wednesday. The plan is to add at least a half-dozen other players with a chance to turn into ‘‘impact’’ prospects.
But for now, a high school center fielder from Hialeah Gardens, Fla., gets to carry the label — and maybe the burden — of being Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs, with all the expectations and pressure to help build something.
Heavy stuff for a teenager.
‘‘To me, it goes back to the evaluations of him as a player,’’ McLeod said. ‘‘On the ability, but even more so on the makeup side of things. This kid is driven to succeed and driven to be the best.
‘‘I think there is something to it being Theo Epstein’s first draft and our first draft here. But that’s going to subside pretty quickly. It’s going to become about him and his career and what he’s going to do for this franchise going forward.
‘‘We feel he’s going to handle it very well because of who he is and what it means to him to be a professional and what it means to him to be great.’’
After assessing Almora’s skills against some of the best year-round competition in Florida and in international tournaments, McLeod said the Cubs focused a lengthy part of their evaluation process on his off-field characteristics.
That included visits to Almora’s home by Epstein, McLeod and Hoyer to meet his parents.
‘‘It’s pretty apparent with the kind of upbringing he’s had, in terms of the morals he carries with himself every day and the work ethic,’’ McLeod said. ‘‘What’s important to Albert Almora are the things that appeal to us. We feel this is a kid who will get the best out of his ability.
‘‘He is a driven person. He wants to be the best. He cares about being the best. He cares about winning. He cares about putting a team in front of himself.’’
The Cubs took a pair of right-handed pitchers with their supplemental first-round picks: Missouri State’s Pierce Johnson and California high schooler Paul Blackburn.
Johnson is a power pitcher with good secondary stuff who might have gone much higher if not for a strained forearm that sidelined him for two starts this spring.
Blackburn’s command ranked among the top three high school pitchers in the draft, according to Baseball America. He has committed to Arizona State, but he’s not considered a signing problem.