Prep star Almora could be top-10 Draft pick
Outfielder, 18, displays talent and maturity beyond his years
Of the general managers with top-10 picks in next month's First-Year Player Draft, Mater Academy coach Eddie Gorriz estimates that seven of them have come to his Miami-area school to watch Albert Almora.
That includes visits from the Astros, who have the No. 1 pick, and the teams that have selections No. 3-6: the Mariners, Orioles, Royals and Cubs. That's how high the interest is in Almora, a high school center fielder from Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
Almora, 18, has tremendous instincts to track fly balls and exceptional power, especially considering he has yet to fill out his 6-foot-2, 172-pound frame.
He is also cool under pressure.
"I think there were 150 scouts at one of my games this year," Almora said. "I like that [attention from scouts]. I'm blessed that I will be able to have a choice to play college or pro."
Almora has a scholarship to the University of Miami, should he choose to delay the start of his pro career. But his advisor, Scott Boras, is the most famous agent in baseball, and the money that is expected to be offered to Almora may be too great to pass up.
Almora, who will attend his prom this weekend, said he is not worried about the Draft.
"I have no control over that," he said. "I just think I will be drafted by whatever team believes in me and thinks of me as their best chance to win a World Series."
Almora should find out which team that is on June 4. The Draft will take place on June 4-6, beginning with the first round and Compensation Round A on Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Almora was invited to Secaucus, N.J., to take part in the festivities on the first day of the Draft. But he declined, saying a large number of family members and friends will gather at his house for a Draft party.
Gorriz said he has one wish on Draft Day.
"I hope he goes to a team that has fans who really appreciate the game," he said. "If that happens, I think they will love how hard he works. I can't ever remember a day when the team practice was all the work he did that day."
That work ethic has been evident for over a decade.
Almora started playing baseball at age 3, when he saw a game at a local park and told his father, Albert Sr., that he wanted in on the fun. When his father started hitting him ground balls, Almora had a different idea:
"Papi, no grounders," Almora said, "hit flies."
And thus an outfielder was born.
Almora's father built a training facility in his backyard, where his son worked on his game and his conditioning seven days a week from ages 4 to 15. Even now, he goes six days a week and takes Sundays off to fish or spend time with his family.
Almora became a varsity starter when he was in the eighth grade.
"Even then, you watched him play center field and your jaw dropped," said Gorriz, who has seen Almora catch fly balls barehanded. "I wanted to start him in the seventh grade, but he was 5-foot-6 and 110 pounds. I thought that if the ball hit him, he'd break."
Gorriz wasn't the only one who recognized Almora's talent. The kid tied a USA Baseball record by making six national teams.
This past November, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the 18-under Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia, where he led the Americans to a gold medal.
But when Almora returned home from the 10-day trip, he found out that his grandparents -- both of whom lived with him and his parents -- had died. His grandmother, Tomasa Sosa, 88, passed away one day after he left for Colombia. His grandfather, Juan Sosa, 94, died one day before Almora returned.
"It was real tough," Almora said. "My parents didn't want to worry me while I was in Colombia. But once I got back and didn't see them in their room ... I went from being happy about a great tournament to my parents telling me the news."
Almora, who broke down in tears, went to the viewing for his grandparents. He took his gold medal and placed it in his grandfather's casket.
"They were the best human beings ever," Almora said. "They never had an argument with us.
"Every night after dinner, my grandfather would make my favorite dessert -- guava with cream cheese. I wouldn't even have to ask. He would bring it to me."
In the months following the double tragedy, Almora has focused on baseball. As a senior, he hit .606 with six homers and 35 RBIs for an 18-5 team. Making those numbers even more impressive was the pitching he faced from teams who were determined not to let Almora beat them.
"Out of the 12 [or so] pitches he got a game, there were probably eight breaking balls, a fastball up at his head and a fastball way outside," Gorriz said. "He got very little to hit.
"I can't wait to see what happens at the next level, where teams will challenge him with fastballs."
Walter Villa is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.