CHICAGO -- With a flurry of activity Tuesday night, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the media on Wednesday about those moves and other issues facing the team.
Epstein on why the Cubs felt it was time to move outfield prospect Jorge Soler up to Triple-A Iowa from Double-A Tennessee, where he was 415/.494/.862 in 22 games:
"With Soler, we talked about how he really looked like he was on a mission. He came off the DL without missing a beat; it was really remarkable for him to not show any signs of rust. In fact, the opposite. “Now is my time” is what he said when he was ready to come off the DL. And he just went out and kind of made a statement. It wasn’t just the numbers, but it was the quality of at-bats he was having. He was laying off tough breaking pitches, he wasn’t being overaggressive when pitchers weren’t giving him pitches to hit. He was doing a much better job of getting the ball in the air, leveraging the baseball. He hit a lot of balls hard in the past, but they’d been on the ground or hard line drives down the third-base line. Now that he’s on time and he’s feeling comfortable at the plate, he’s using the entire ballpark. He’s hitting balls out to straightaway-left field, he’s hitting balls out to right-center and he’s getting balls in the air. When you’re as strong as he is, you hit the ball as hard as he does and you can manage an at-bat as well as he does, hitting the ball in the air is a good thing and the results are going to come after that. He’s just not getting pitched to there, and he’s on a mission and we think that Triple-A is the appropriate level for him to be challenged."
Epstein on questions about Soler’s maturity and makeup:
"I think he’s always been a pretty mature kid. I think a lot of people rush to judgment with respect to his on-field makeup because of what they saw in the fall league. That’s when a lot of scouts saw Soler for the first time and he was playing hurt. He was just coming back from the stress fracture, and we asked him to take it easy on his leg. So a lot of scouts saw him jogging to first base, walking out to his position at times, and that was done in an effort to protect his leg. Now that he’s healthy, he’s playing with a little more passion. He’s on a mission. To that extent, we’ve been impressed with how he’s taken responsibility for his own development, taken accountability for being on the field and for getting where he wants to be. He basically told us, “It’s my time, watch me,” and he’s gone out and done it. And done it not only with results, but done it in a way that’s gotten our attention. And we’re rewarding him, because he looks like he’s on a mission to get to the big leagues."
Epstein on the promotion of center fielder Albert Almora from Hi-A Daytona to Tennessee after he started to turn things around with a .988 OPS in his past 27 games:
"We’ve been walking a fine line with Albert, much like with Starlin [Castro]. We asked him to focus on pitches he can drive. Instead of just being aggressive for the sake of being aggressive, be aggressive on pitches you can drive. And he really started doing that. It doesn’t always manifest in his walk totals. That’s fine. That’ll come with time to a certain extent. But he’s being more aggressive on pitches he can drive. And because of that he’s hitting the ball with more authority, he’s hitting with power and he’s had a fantastic last month. And he’s the type of player who I think plays up to the level of competition and rises to a challenge. He’s played with guys older than him his entire career, amateur and professional. We think this is a nice challenge for him. Sort of write a different story for his 2014 season. He has a chance to have a really productive development year after getting off to a tough start for a lot of different reasons."
Epstein on the demotion of third baseman Mike Olt after he produced a slash line of .139/.222/.353 in 72 games with 12 home runs and struck out in 39.6 percent of his plate appearances:
"Mike actually took the news extraordinarily well. He acknowledges that he’s gotten into a few bad habits at the plate -- bad habits that he couldn’t break out of at the big league level, especially playing sporadically. I think playing every day will be good for him. And we think that he’s got a chance to right himself just by playing every day -- being a little bit more relaxed, taking some of the things he’s practicing in the cage into the game with him and righting himself and getting back up here. I think it was the appropriate move at the appropriate time. He handled the news well, and I think he looks at it as an opportunity."
Epstein on the upcoming trade deadline:
"We certainly made our big move already; that one came on July 4. We’re not in a rush to make moves. Obviously if there’s a chance to acquire talent that could help us in the future, we’re always interested in that. At the same time, especially with the players we control beyond this year, we have to factor into the calculus how well those players fit in going forward. How well they fit into the clubhouse, what they can do for us on the field, how they mesh with the next generation of talent that might be coming up, especially for complimentary-type players. There’s value to keeping players who have roles here for the sake of continuity, leadership and performance on the field. Especially the players we control beyond this year, we’re not in any rush to make trades for the sake of making trades. The guys who are free agents at the end of the year, obviously there’s a lot of talk about those kinds of players this time of year. We’ll see what happens."
Epstein on the St. Louis Cardinals once again receiving a competitive balance draft pick:
"I could talk all day about the Cardinals and how we hold them in high regard. That’s a fantastic franchise. They have been for the better part of a century. They do extremely well from a baseball standpoint and from a revenue standpoint. It’s probably the last organization in baseball that needs that kind of annual gift that they receive. It’ll just make it that much sweeter when we get to a point where we can compete with them and ultimately, we hope, prevail. It’s not necessarily the type of thing they need, given their performance on the field and off the field. They do a fantastic job, and it just doesn’t seem like something they need at this point."