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Mater Academy’s Albert Almora goes to Chicago Cubs on 6th pick

For the third time in five years, a Miami-Dade or Broward high school player has been selected among the top six picks overall in the MLB Draft.

Eric Hosmer (Plantation American Heritage) was selected third in 2008, and Manny Machado (Miami Brito) was taken third in 2010.

On Monday night, it was Albert Almora’s time to shine. The center fielder from Hialeah Gardens’ Mater Academy was the sixth player selected, grabbed up by the Chicago Cubs.

Almora wasn’t the only local player drafted in the first round Monday night. Pitcher Nick Travieso of state champion Archbishop McCarthy was selected 14th overall by the Cincinnati Reds.

Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, who played his high school ball at American Heritage, was selected 24th by the Boston Red Sox. And Coral Springs outfielder Lewis Brinson was selected 29th overall by the Texas Rangers.

Almora said he was thrilled, but he also showed the confidence that has made him an elite prospect.

“I believe in my ability,” Almora said. “But I’m not going to lie. In my book, I was the No. 1 pick.”

Ironically, the No. 1 pick was Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, a University of Miami recruit just like Almora and Travieso. Correa was drafted by the Houston Astros.

As for Almora, Monday night was the start of a monumental week in his young life. His school’s awards banquet is on Wednesday, and his high school graduation ceremony is set for Friday.

Then again, before Almora gets his diploma, he already has a pretty good job opportunity with the Cubs.

Almora is represented by Scott Boras, one of baseball’s power brokers. According to MLB’s strict slotting system, Almora will likely receive a signing bonus of $3.25 million.

Travieso, whose fastball reaches the mid-to-high 90s (mph), would get a signing bonus of 2.38 million, according to the MLB slotting process. Marrero would get $1.75 million, and Brinson would get $1.63 million.

If a team exceeds the specific dollar amount given to his slot in the draft, they would be penalized by MLB. Going over slot by five percent or more would cost them a first-round pick. Going over by 15 percent would mean forfeiture of two first-round selections.

Should Almora decline his offer, he has a 4.1 grade-point average and is a legitimate student.

Almora, though, is expected to sign, even if he wouldn’t admit as much Monday night.

“Right now, I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Almora said. “I’m not even thinking about money or anything. I’m just trying to take it all in and be happy.”

The Cubs, of course, would be thrilled if Almora accepts their offer. It came as no surprise to anyone in the industry that Chicago was Almora’s destination. The Cubs had scouted Almora extensively and had a private workout with him on May 22 at St. Thomas University.

Theo Epstein, the general manager who won two World Series in Boston, is now running his first draft for the Cubs, who are in last place and in dire need of a talent upgrade.

Almora, 18, won’t offer immediate help – no one drafted on Monday will. But Baseball America ranks him as the high school player who is closest to the big leagues.

The Cubs fell in love with Almora’s defensive ability in addition to his exceptional power, especially considering he has yet to fill out his 6-foot-2, 172-pound frame.

The Marlins, who had the ninth pick, also had him in for a workout at their stadium – but they never got a chance to draft the hometown phenom.

Chicago got there first, and the Cubs made a great pick, according to Eddie Gorriz, who coached Almora at Mater Academy.

“He is going to make everyone proud - I know it,” he said. “The city of Chicago will fall in love with Albert. They are true baseball fans in Chicago, and they will love the way he plays.”

Almora was heavily scouted by virtually every team, and with all that interest and all that excitement, Almora said he’s had some anxious moments in the past week.

“There were a couple days there that I wasn’t able to sleep,” Almora said. “But I finally got rest on Sunday. It was a good weekend.”

Monday wasn’t so bad, either. There were about 200 people in the Almora household in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., when the Cubs made their selection.

Almora’s mother, Ana Almora, ran to the living room when she heard her son had been drafted.

“I’m the happiest mom in the world,” she said. “And this is the happiest day in Albert’s life, too.”