Monday, March 18, 2013
Soler, Baez made impressions with Cubs
By Jesse Rogers
PEORIA, Az. -- On their final day in big league camp, Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum gave top prospects Jorge Soler and Javier Baez a nice parting gift: batting third and fourth in the lineup, respectively.
Maybe it's foreshadowing. Or maybe it's simply a reward for a good spring training as neither player did anything to dissuade observers of their potential. As they prepared to play their final game on Monday against the San Diego Padres before heading for Class-A Daytona, both reflected on what they learned. For Baez, it was simple:
"Take pitches,” he said Monday morning.
But let's hope not too many. Not after homering on three consecutive fastballs over the weekend and then adding another one four pitches later. The Cubs aren't stupid, they aren't going to take away that aggressiveness, but they want to add some patience to his game or else pitchers will take advantage of him when he returns to the big leagues.
If he's walking every so often and showing the ability to hit off-speed pitching, Baez will move up the minor league ladder quickly. His .333 average going into Monday's action and four official home runs -- as well as two more against Japan in an exhibition game -- were a peak at his abilities as was his quick instincts at shortstop.
As for Soler, his adjustments have been more about his surroundings. He speaks very little English but hopes to improve in that area. On the field he has actually shown more maturity at the plate than Baez and his instincts in the outfield have been good. The advice given to him by teammate Alfonso Soriano hasn't been about breaking balls or technical adjustments.
"No matter what kind of money I get you still have to work hard every single day and when you go the minor leagues you have to be an example for the young kids,” Soler said through an interpreter.
Soriano was taught how to be a big league player by great New York Yankee players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Now he's passing it on to younger guys.
"You have big money but that's not enough,” Soriano told Soler. "Money will come but you have to work and be better. They give you money but they want something back: For you to be in the big leagues and help the team win.”
Soler signed a 9 year, $30 million deal in 2012. Soriano expressed to him the time for fun and taking vacations is in the offseason.
"Now is the time for working hard,” he said.
Soler seems to be taking to that advice. He says in his off time he's been just sleeping and "listening to music.” And he's learned things on the field as well.
"A lot of good things about hitting,” he said. "Be more patient ... I've never seen that kind of pitching before. Have to make adjustments, not always seeing 3-0 fastball, 2-0 fastball.”
Sounds similar to what Baez is trying to understand. Soler is a little more advanced in that area but Baez is more aggressive at the plate. The two could learn from each other and probably will. Soler says they have become friends and is glad they are playing together in the minors.
"He has a lot of talent,” Soler stated. "We have a good relationship.”
The two have made their presence felt in the locker room as well -- especially Baez.
"Everything is a big test in these locker rooms,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "Everyone wants to know how these guys will react to different situations. Everyone is an individual and you don't take that away from anybody but obviously you want to do it in a respectful manner and the right way. He's definitely a good kid. You just have to give him a hard time and he's taken it well which is a good thing.”
The Cubs dressed up Baez's car with a "Rookie on Board” sign and gave him a hard time for "calling his shot” before he won a game last Friday with a walk-off home run. But Samardzija is on-board with his talent.
"The thing about Baez that stood out is he's pretty polished overall,” Samardzija said. "You want people to play with that chip on their shoulder and that edge.”
As for going down to the minors when it's within the realm of possibility either Soler or Baez are among the best 25 players in camp, Samardzija says it's an easy decision.
"The worst thing you can do is make a hasteful decision based on 15 games,” Samardzija explained. "If he's like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout or these guys then they'll force that hand.”