Young Cubs not overwhelmed in big leagues

Young Cubs not overwhelmed in big leagues

CHICAGO -- Albert Almora Jr. hit an infield single in the first inning of Friday's 6-0 win against the Pirates, and -- maybe for the first time -- he took a second to breathe in the moment.

It was Almora's first hit at Wrigley Field. He said he stopped, looked around and appreciated the beautiful roar of the fans.

"After that, it's time to go," Almora said. "It was time to lock in."

On the same day catching prospect Willson Contreras made his Major League debut, the Cubs' youth didn't seem so young.

Almora doubled in the sixth inning and finished with a career-high three hits and two RBIs. Entering Saturday, since his June 7 debut, Almora is hitting .429 with five RBIs, including a game-winning double Tuesday against the Nationals. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, called it "a perfect introduction."

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Like Addison Russell and Kris Bryant before them, Contreras and Almora are the latest Cubs to come to the big leagues and embrace the challenge rather than shy from the pressure.

"It speaks volumes to their character, how good they are as players and as humans," right-hander Jake Arrieta said. "I'm really proud of those guys for staying aggressive and not being afraid to make mistakes."

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Contreras didn't get an at-bat but did catch the ninth inning Friday. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Contreras handled everything about his first day in the big leagues perfectly, and that mentality has been the most impressive thing about Contreras going back to Spring Training.

"He's not wide-eyed; he's good," Maddon said. "Same with Albert. They've been very in the moment. They have not been overly impressed with all of this, which I kind of like. Not kind of like -- I like it a lot."

The Cubs have made efforts to create a culture in the Minor Leagues that can lead to such easy transitions. Especially with Contreras, the Cubs tried to expose him to big league catchers and big league situations well before his callup.

Even his appearance in the Majors, which might be temporary, is a way to ease him in before he will likely one day become Chicago's full-time catcher.

"This is a well-thought-out program," Maddon said. "Everybody is reading from the same sheet of music."

Almora said the biggest thing about his time in the Minors was not physical improvement. Rather, it was mental development that has made the jump from Triple-A to the Majors more of an easy hop.

And so far, it shows.

"At the end of the day, it's the same game," Almora said. "Those pressure situations or those situations you want to get the guys in, you just have to take a deep breath and kind of dig in and do your job."

Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.