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Druley: Cougars' Almora: ‘I couldn’t maintain my body’

Cubs' prospect reflects on shortened season

Albert Almora referenced his volume of interviews this baseball season upon yielding to another one Thursday.

The Cubs’ prized center field prospect recalls fielding frequent questions about the goals he brought into his first full professional season, a topic that’s come full-circle as he recovers from a groin injury at his spacious West Kendall, Fla., home.

As instinctually as he played for 61 games with the Cougars, Almora listed staying healthy atop his list of objectives. While he won’t abandon those aspirations for next season and beyond, the Cubs’ 2012 first-round pick is up front about falling short this time.

“I played well in the field and I felt great when I was playing, but I couldn’t maintain my body,” Almora said by cellphone. “It was a satisfactory year on the field, but I didn’t meet my goal of wanting to play more.”

Cubs officials pegged Almora, 19, to begin the season with Class-A Kane County from the start, but his arrival took a detour when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand in spring training.

He joined the Cougars May 22 and went 4 for 7 during a doubleheader in his home debut three days later.

Already square on Cubs fans’ radars before the parent club moved its Midwest League affiliate to Geneva in September, Almora never shied away from the increased attention, making frequent volunteer appearances and signing autographs even when he landed on the disabled list earlier this month.

He told only his girlfiend, Cynthia, of his flight to south Florida last week, and still is beaming about the surprised face of his mother, Ana, when he arrived at his house.

Almora knows those moments can’t speed up his recovery, but they’re still part of what keeps him grounded as he prepares to play with Mesa of the Arizona Fall League beginning Oct. 8.

“I’ve been trying to stay away from life in general just since I’ve been home,” Almora said. “I just want to enjoy my family, enjoy the loved ones. Have fun, be relaxed, clear my mind and get ready for a brand new year, a brand new beginning.”

Almora said he hasn’t been told when he’ll report to Mesa – also the Cubs’ spring training home – but he’ll be re-evaluated then. Almora and the team have described his injury as a bruised bone in his groin, a dicey condition that prompted the Cubs to put him on the AFL “taxi squad” of players eligible to play only twice a week.

Almora batted a team-high .329 with 17 doubles, three home runs and 23 RBIs with the Cougars. His final appearance came Aug. 4 at Clinton, a game he left after feeling a tweak in his groin.

The Cougars had started to stumble down the stretch even with Almora in the lineup. A club missing most of its six All-Stars because of promotion or injury set the single-season franchise record with its 77th loss Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s a year that didn’t end up the way we wanted, but it happens,” Almora said. “That’s baseball. The guys in there are still going to grind it out.”

Almora still keeps in touch with teammates, but said he does not want to be intrusive. Some Cougars are preparing for instructional league, and others still have a few games to put themselves in better standing for next season.

Apart from his health woes, Almora likes where he stands.

Er, sits. Er, stretches.

He recently took to “hot yoga” to liven up the healing process and show the Cubs further initiative.

“Once they give me the OK to go full blast, I will,” Almora said. “But until then, I’ve got to wait.”

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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