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Druley: Almora could suit up soon

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 5:31 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013 8:29 a.m. CST

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GENEVA – Reports indicated Cubs outfield prospect Albert Almora would return in mid-May after breaking the hamate bone in his left hand during spring training.

Now that the time has arrived, there’s growing speculation the 19-year-old will soon suit up for the Cougars. Almora’s friends in the Kane County clubhouse sure hope so.

“He’s ready. He’s getting ready. He’s itching. He’s chomping at the bit, for sure,” infielder David Bote said. “He’s just trying to get that hand healthy. He doesn’t want to rush it too quick. He’s getting excited, and he wants to come back, come up here.”

Bote worked alongside Almora at the Cubs’ extended spring training facility in Arizona before joining the Cougars during last week’s road trip to Burlington and Clinton. Bote initially was scheduled to begin the season in Kane County, and actually was in Geneva before a roster move preceded the April 4 season opener.

The Cubs also targeted Almora – the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft – for the same destination, but his mid-March injury derailed those plans. Several Cougars have remained in touch with Almora in the interim, with communications ranging from sharing social media birthday wishes last month to regular phone conversations.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach, a fellow Floridian and Almora’s former travel and Team USA age group teammate, fits the latter category.

“He’s been playing and stuff,” Vogelbach said. “I don’t know when they’re going to let him go, but he should be up here soon.”

Almora is getting regular at-bats in Arizona, where the Cubs play both intrasquad games and games against extended spring training teams from other organizations. He resumed baseball activities in late April.

Spending 18 games with Rookie League Arizona and 15 with Short-A Boise, Almora hit .321 with two home runs and 19 RBIs last summer. He bats and throws right-handed, and uses a pronounced leg kick while at the plate.

“I had him in Boise a little bit last year, and he’s just an amazing human being,” first-year Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He’s a great person, really polished player to be as young as he is. And he’s just a great teammate. So wherever he is and wherever he plays, he’s well-liked by everybody and he’s a good player.”

Given a recent season-ending shoulder injury to Trey Martin, the Cougars would figure to be in business for another full-time outfielder soon. Designated hitter/first baseman Rock Shoulders, the Cubs’ organizational player of the month for April, has played left field about once a week in a bid to boost his defensive exposure. While early reviews are positive, the chance to bring Almora and Vogelbach into the same lineup for the bulk of a full season is in the Cubs’ cards.

It’s also just a phone call away.

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

LEADERS IN THE COUGARS CLUBHOUSE

BATTING AVERAGE Bijan Rademacher, .360 Rock Shoulders, .316 Willson Contreras, .294

HOME RUNS Rock Shoulders, 8 Willson Contreras, 5 Dan Vogelbach, 5

RBIS Rock Shoulders, 27 Dan Vogelbach, 21 Willson Contreras, 18

STOLEN BASES Pin-Chieh Chen, 6 Oliver Zapata, 6 Marco Hernandez, 5

ERA Nathan Dorris, 1.69 Felix Pena, 2.23 Brian Smith, 2.60

WINS Justin Amlung, 3 Five players with 2

Who's hot Left-hander Brian Smith has thrown 6 1/3 innings of scoreless relief over three May appearances, striking out nine. He had a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings in April.

Who's not Outfielder Oliver Zapata batted .222 (4 for 18) during the Cougars' recently-completed, six-game trip to Burlington and Clinton. He also drew four walks during the stretch.

Star watch An improving Cougars pitching staff certainly will have its eyes on Cedar Rapids center fielder Byron Buxton when it visits the Kernels for four games beginning Friday. The No. 2 overall pick of the parent Minnesota Twins in last June's draft, Buxton entered Wednesday batting .341 with five home runs and 28 RBIs in 35 games. The 19-year-old is drawing comparisons to a former Kernels outfield phenom now in the major leagues: the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout.

Noteworthy The Cougars lead the all-time series with Peoria, 164-129, including an 8-7 mark last season. ... The Cougars' second annual Ozzie's Home Run & Walk 5K is set for Saturday. To sign up or learn more about the event – which starts and finishes on the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark field – log on to kccougars.com. ... After today's doubleheader with Peoria, the Cougars play 10 of their next 13 games on the road. ... Designated hitter Rock Shoulders is batting .413 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark and .190 away from home.

– Kevin Druley, kdruley@shawmedia.com

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