KODAK, TENN — The last of the original "Core Four" prospects to make it through the Cubs' system is likely to be center fielder Albert Almora, the initial first-round draft pick of the new regime in 2012.
By the time Almora makes it — perhaps in September 2015 if all goes well — Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant no doubt will have joined Javier Baez at Wrigley Field while newly acquired impact hitter Addison Russell, the "fifth Beatle" of the group, could be on the fast track as well.
But Almora isn't too worried about timelines or anything else relating to his promising career. After watching his father, Albert Almora Sr., go through cancer surgery last spring there's nothing that can really faze him.
"He's fighting every day," Albert said of his dad. "He's a strong man, and my mentor and best friend. I can't ask for anything more.
"That scare puts everything in perspective. This is just a game. We get upset after going 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts, but he's fighting for his life. It makes everything clear to me. At the end of the day, I have a family."
The senior Almora is recovering from surgery and was in Tennessee recently watching his son play. It hasn't been the kind of start the Cubs' prospect expected after a recent promotion from Class A Daytona, where he hit .283 with seven homers, 20 doubles and 50 RBIs.
Almora was hitting .214 with one home run and four RBIs in his first 19 games for the Smokies, struggling to become consistent against higher competition.
"The numbers aren't there, but I feel like I'm having great at-bats," Almora said. "It's just a matter of they're not falling in right now. I feel great."
Almora got off to a similarly slow start in Daytona before rebounding, so this is nothing new for the 20-year-old. The Cubs are confident he will come around during this final month of the regular season, and hopefully into Southern League playoffs.
"Certainly he has been someone who has hit his whole life," Cubs scouting/player development director Jason McLeod said. "I think this year he has tried some different things, from a mechanical standpoint, with his stride. So maybe he has been searching a little bit throughout the year.
"He certainly has had some good streaks and (he) had the great streak in Daytona that preceded his move to Double A. And he also has battled himself sometimes too. Development-wise, it still has been a good year for him. We always like to see how some guys go through adversity and how they come out of it."
McLeod also said dealing with his father's health problems may have affected Almora's concentration level.
"Everyone loves their parents, and that's a special, tight-knit family," he said. "And when that happened toward the end of spring training (it) affected him greatly, probably more than he wanted to let on."
Despite the inconsistent hitting Almora has been a standout defensive player in center.
"He's the best defensive outfielder I've ever seen," Tennessee pitcher Pierce Johnson said. "A great guy in the clubhouse and off the field. An all-around good dude, plus his talent speaks for itself. I'm excited to see what he has in the future."
Almora suffered a freak injury before his first season at Class A Kane County, when a Johnson pitch that hit him during an intrasquad game fractured the hamate bone in his left hand. He wound up playing only 61 games, hitting .329 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.
"I felt terrible," Johnson said. "It was a high fastball and he fouled it off. I guess that's when it happened."
But the setback didn't keep Almora down long, and once he got acclimated at Daytona this spring he took off.
Though Almora is strong at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he's not the kind of power hitter the Cubs have in Baez, Bryant and Soler. He prefers to line balls into the gaps and use his speed.
Will Almora eventually develop more power or is he going to be a table-setter instead?