Pressure? What pressure?
Albert Almora, touted as one of the top high school prospects in the country, was the Chicago Cubs first pick in Junes draft. After signing a $3.9 million contract, the sixth overall pick was sent to play for the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Summer League. Then, after 18 games, the center fielder learned he was being sent to Boise to play for the Hawks, a short-season Class A team.
All the while, Almora was being touted as an important piece to the Cubs puzzle as they try to rebuild a long-suffering franchise with a youth movement.
And how did the 18-year-old Almora respond to all this pressure as he made his debut with the Hawks on Wednesday night? With a home run in the fourth inning of the Hawks 13-5 loss to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes at Memorial Stadium.
Its just baseball, the soft-spoken Almora said. Im used to this.
Hes also used to delivering on the baseball diamond. Almora, from Hialeah, Fla., is a veteran of international play. He has represented Team USA six times. In November, he was named the tournament MVP while playing for Team USAs 18-and-under squad at the Pan American Games in Columbia.
Ive been on a 14-hour plane ride to Taipei (Taiwan) to play a baseball game in the Junior Olympics, Almora said. So Ive been around the world at a young age.
Almora has been able to lean on that experience as he begins his pro career.
Hes played some big-time games, Hawks manager Mark Johnson said. Hes above his years, maturity-wise and playing-the-game-wise.
Almora certainly made the jump from high school to pro ball look effortless in his short time with Mesa. He went 10-for-14 in his three games prior to coming to Boise. In his final game in Arizona on Monday night, he was 5-for-6 with a triple, three RBIs, three runs and a stolen base. Oh, and by the way, he also hit a home run in his debut with the team.
The guys in Mesa who have been coaching him the past three weeks have said nothing but really good things about him, about his makeup, Johnson said.
Almora learned Tuesday morning he was getting promoted to Boise.
It was completely out of the blue, he said.
Just like that, Almora was the newest member of a first-place Hawks team.
Coming into a playoff atmosphere is great, he said.
Johnson said he isnt concerned about Almora affecting the teams chemistry.
I think hes one guy who can come into a clubhouse like this and be fine, Johnson said. Hes a quiet, confident kid, and hes been around.
GAME NOTES: Almora finished 2-for-5 and was robbed of another hit with a diving catch by Volcanoes left-fielder Brennan Metzer. Almora was shaken up after hitting the wall hard while trying to make a play in center field in the sixth inning. That put a scare into the crowd and sent team trainer Bob Grimes and Johnson running out to the field. Almora stayed in the game after a short delay. Boise dropped to 14-8, but will maintain at least a four-game lead in the Northwest Leagues East Division, pending Wednesdays late games. The attendance was 3,490, the second-biggest home crowd of the season. Boise first baseman Rock Shoulders hit a homer in the eighth inning, but it wasnt enough to counter the Volcanoes offensive onslaught. Salem-Keizer hit five home runs and pounded out 16 hits.
HAWKS HIT THE ROAD FOR LONG ROAD TRIP Boises next 11 games are on the road as the team makes an extended trip while the Western Idaho Fair runs from Thursday to Aug. 26. The Hawks went 3-16 in away games during the first half of the season, but were 6-2 on their first road trip of the second half. That success will make a difference to the players, Hawks manager Mark Johnson said. Most definitely, he said. Having that really good trip, where we could have won seven out of eight, or even eight out of eight, it just adds to our confidence and momentum. On top of that, Johnson sees a sense of purpose from his team, which sits in first place in the Northwest Leagues East Division and is pursuing a spot in the postseason. Theyre so into winning this thing that they dont really care, he said. They just want to play the game, no matter where its at.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424