MESA, Ariz. — The evaluation of center fielder Albert Almora runs deeper than his .326 batting average in his first 389 minor league at-bats and his steady defense.
But the least of the Cubs' concerns is the maturity of Almora, 19, who played for Team USA six times - including a tournament in Columbia at 17 after saying goodbye to his ill grandfather and losing both grandparents after his return.
"He's an old soul in a young man's body," said Ana Almora, Albert's mother. "Anyone can say they're a great baseball player. Not many can say they're a great man. He had those morals and principles at a young age."
If the Cubs want to make an exception to their intention not to rush top prospects to the majors, a strong case can be made for the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Almora because of his maturity as well as his success.
Almora could start the season at Class A Daytona, where he likely would have finished 2013 if it had not been for a groin injury. Injuries limited Almora to 61 games at Class A Kane County, where he batted .329 with a .376 on-base percentage.
"It probably will come down to performance," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, fully aware of Almora's international experience before the club selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. "He has a good head on his shoulders. It's nice not to think about those things. But ultimately ... he still has to go to a place and put up numbers to move up."
The first challenges presented to Almora were when he was 7 playing against 11- and 12-year-olds. His father, Albert Sr., saw his son's talent and pushed him while still making baseball fun.
"I never played with kids my age," Almora said. "Even with professional ball, now I'm playing against 30-year-old guys."
Cubs special assistant Tim Wilken was able to watch Almora play an additional five times in the states in the fall of his senior high school season in Hialeah, Fla., because inclement weather caused a delay to the start of the international tournament in Columbia.
That enabled Wilken to collect more data on Almora, whose father had a 50-foot rope tied to a tree in the yard for his son to climb as part of his training.
Almora earned most valuable player honors at the tournament in Columbia that virtually cemented his status as a high draft pick, but he took nothing for granted. Ana Almora says her son had a 4.3 grade-point average at Mater Academy and received a letter from Brown before signing a letter-of-intent with Miami.
"You must have the makeup to be the captain for Team USA," Ana Almora said. "He can handle himself."
That was apparent last spring when he turned down extra money while agreeing to sign autographs for a long line of Kane County fans on July 4, as well as talking to kids at his junior high school last winter.
Almora is the youngest player in the Cubs' spring training camp and the youngest of their ballyhooed "Core Four" of top prospects that also includes Javier Baez (21), Kris Bryant (22) and Jorge Soler (22).
"We all know what everyone is doing, and everyone looks after each other," Almora said. "We still have to perform at our best, but we're a big family here."