Baseball

Local prospects hoping to follow lead of Almora to MLB

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Welcome to the majors, Albert.

Now, who’s next?

On Tuesday, four years and three days since the Chicago Cubs made him their 2012 first-round pick, ex-Mater Academy outfielder Albert Almora made his major-league debut.

On Thursday, more first-round picks were selected in this year’s edition of the draft. More dreams started to take shape … more players longing to reach the majors, just like Almora.

The first player with Dade or Broward roots to come off the 2016 draft board was lefty-hitting catcher Zack Collins, a former Plantation American Heritage star.

Collins, who now plays for the Miami Hurricanes, was the 10th overall player selected, going to the Chicago White Sox. Collins was obviously thrilled, immediately slapping a White Sox cap on his head.

Almora, also drafted by a Chicago team, surely knows how Collins feels. Almora was the sixth overall pick in 2012, and the Cubs, who signed him for a $3.9 million bonus, waited patiently as he developed.

On Wednesday, he started to pay them back, throwing a runner out at the plate from left field in his first inning as a major-league starter. Almora also went 1-for- 4 with an RBI and a run scored.

“I’m freaking out – this is awesome,” said Eddie Gorriz, who coached Almora in high school and has remained close to the player and his family. “I’m super excited.

“Albert is going crazy. He hasn’t slept at all. The last three days have been crazy. I’m excited for him and his family.”

Gorriz said Almora, a 22-year old who has been called a “special defender” by Baseball America because of his instincts, anticipation and ability to track the ball, is thrilled to land on the best team in baseball at the moment, the Cubs.

On Thursday, Almora went to a Philadelphia mall with Cubs teammate Jake Arrieta, which must have been surreal for the rookie. After all, Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award.

But then things got even better. At the mall, Almora and Arrieta bumped into Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, who was there with his wife.

The four hung out together in some stores until Fowler noticed that Almora was admiring a Louis Vuitton wallet.

“Fowler said, ‘You like that wallet?’ “ said Gorriz, relaying the story after his conversation with Almora.

When Almora said yes, Fowler bought the item for the rookie as a reward for his first major-league hit.

“The Cubs guys are team guys,” Gorriz said. “They are having fun, playing ball and winning.”

Welcome to the show, Albert.

Now, who’s next?

THE WAITING GAME

Todd Fitz-Gerald, the coach of Class 9A champion Douglas, had a busy night on Thursday.

First stop was the home of 6-1, 200-pound left-hander Jesus Luzardo, a Miami Hurricanes recruit who was hoping to get drafted late Thursday night.

Luzardo, the draft’s 50 th -ranked prospect according to Baseball America, had elbow surgery 11 weeks ago, which may scare some teams away. But Fitz-Gerald said his pitcher is making great progress.

“He’s two months ahead of schedule,” said the coach of a surgery that normally requires a recovery time of 12-to- 18 months. “At his age, pitchers can recover quicker.

“Jesus throws 93-95 and can touch 97 (mph). It’s hard to keep aguy like that off your radar.”

Fitz-Gerald’s plan was to stay at Luzardo’s house until he got selected. Once that happened, Fitz-Gerald’s plan was to drive one mile up the road to the home of his other star prospect, Colton Welker, a third baseman/shortstop.

Welker, who has also committed to Miami, is a 6-2, 210-pounder.

“He could end up behind the plate,” Fitz-Gerald said of Welker, who is ranked No. 168 among all prospects. “He has such a good arm stroke and a good frame.”

The draft will continue through Saturday.

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