MESA, Ariz. -- First he admitted it to Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and then he did the same with reporters: Jorge Soler knows he didn't have the best of regular seasons in 2015, but he turned up the focus in the playoffs when he reached base in nine consecutive plate appearances. Now he wants to carry that success -- and focus -- to the entire 2016 season.
"Was a lot of focus on the game during the playoffs," Soler said through an interpreter Friday at Cubs camp. "During the season I got out of my mind [lost focus] when I had a failed at-bat. I got a little lazy defensively. During the playoffs I focused on my at-bats, on my defense. That helped my game."
Soler's role on the team is to be determined after the trade of Chris Coghlan to Oakland on Thursday. Soler was never assured of a full-time starting job, but now he has to compete with up-and-coming second-year player Kyle Schwarber in a foreign position, left field. Soler was playing right field until the Cubs re-signed Dexter Fowler, pushing Jason Heyward to Soler's position.
"This is my first time ever playing left field," Soler said. "I'll work hard every day."
After turning 24 on Thursday, the Cuba-born Soler is still learning a lot about his new home and baseball. He intimated he won't wear his infamous ski mask during the colder months of the season as his production plummeted last year along with the temperature. Maddon tried to explain his surge in the playoffs.
"There's this new season and now I get this fresh beginning," Maddon said. "I think he saw it as a fresh beginning, and with that we saw what he's capable of doing."
Soler’s OPS went from .723 in the regular season to 1.705 in the playoffs. Now he has to continue on the path he set against the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round, when he did the most damage. When the NLCS came about, so did cold New York weather, and again Soler went into his shell.
"My biggest thing with him is he understands how to get ready to play every day," Maddon said. "I'm not looking for great plays. I'm not looking for 20 homers or hit .310. It's just a matter of getting a young player that understands the major leagues on a daily basis. That his prep work is good, that he's getting ready to play when asked to play."
There's even more competition now in the outfield after the Cubs signed Shane Victorino to a minor-league deal Friday. Nobody is thinking Soler is competing with Victorino for a roster spot, but the fact remains Soler needs to bring it during the regular season, just as he did in the playoffs, as the Cubs are in win-now mode. Soler will have to earn his playing time while staying healthy. Leg injuries have plagued him every year of his Cubs career.
"I lost 10 pounds," Soler said. "I want to lose a little more. I don't want to put too much weight on my legs."
It's a fresh start for Soler, who stands at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds. He might simply be a platoon monster against left-handed pitching or he might force the issue with his incredible size and strength. If he's hitting monster home runs and throwing out guys on the basepaths, it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup. But if he's taking bad routes to the ball and bad swings at the plate, Soler will be relegated to platoon duty.
"There's theory and there's reality," Maddon said. "We're all about theory right now, but I do believe reality is going to be attached -- but we have to keep it together and focus on the day. Focus on the little things."
Soler says he's not worried about playing time, just getting better every day. It's a good attitude. Hopefully he keeps the same perspective when things don't go right.
"It's our responsibility to give him more tools to work with, whether it's mental or physical. He looks good, really good. How do you look bad?" Maddon said of arguably the most impressive athlete on the team.