Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler

Coaching the next step for Baker

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:07
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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John BakerCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsBaseball is "all I really know," said Cubs catcher John Baker, who is eyeing a transition to coaching.

CHICAGO -- The stairs up to the Wrigley Field press box are lined with pictures of the Chicago Cubs' current roster. Right after a few images of the coaching staff, the first player shown is John Baker. It's nothing but a coincidence, but it's an interesting one, since the 33-year-old Baker is nearing the end of his playing career and seems likely to transition to a coaching job at some level in the near future.

"It's something that I would like to do, just because I think there are things in the game I could change," Baker said when asked about a potential future in managing. "I think there's coaching philosophies that could be altered -- not pointing any fingers here or other teams -- but just stuff that I see that works and stuff that doesn't work that I'd like to be able to put my stamp on and see what kind of environment I could cultivate with what I know from all the teams I've been on."

Baker appears more than willing to think outside the box if the opportunity arose and he found himself managing a club. While he pointed out that advanced statistics definitely hold an important role in today's game, Baker believes the sabermetric angle is most valuable to the people in front offices, especially when constructing a roster. Numbers certainly have a place for coaches as well, but Baker says the bottom line is most players don't have much use for them.

"It's something I don't think the players think about very often, nor should they think about it," Baker said. "Because baseball boils down to, no matter which way you slice it, hit the ball with the stick and chase the ball in the grass. Mathematics don't necessarily help you with your reaction. It’s going to help [first-base coach] Eric Hinske move Jorge Soler 15 feet to his left, because maybe that's where Matt Holliday is 70 percent likely to hit the ball when we throw a fastball up and away. But it's not going to help Jorge Soler catch the ball."

Baker admitted that a sort of liaison between the front office and coaching staff to help communicate that sort of information could be useful. It's something that more and more teams are starting to use and could become the norm soon enough all around baseball. However, when it comes to having a passion for the game and getting into the nitty-gritty of learning everything about an opponent, Baker seems willing and able to tackle that head-on.

"I really like playing baseball, I love to watch baseball, it's really all I know," Baker said. "I consider myself … not necessarily an expert physically, but I’ve probably watched, closely, more games than a lot of people -- analyzed it on video, watched games on the airplane, trying to figure out why people are pitching certain people certain ways. Trying to figure out different strategies for success and different strategies for cultivating the right environment in the locker room."

Baker surprised some by snagging the backup catcher role in spring training over George Kottaras. But soon, any doubters realized that Baker's infectious personality, easygoing nature and unimpeachable work ethic made him the perfect veteran to work with the pitching staff and have around a young, impressionable core of talent.

"My responsibility as a player is to show up to the field every day ready to play baseball and, in whatever way I can, help the team win the game," Baker said. "I think sometimes that mindset gets lost, especially with the newer generation. I think it's my responsibility to act that way all the time so that when other people see it, they say, 'Oh my gosh, this is a guy who batted seventh in high school, walked on in college and got to the big leagues. He's not the best athlete, but he spends lots of time in the weight room, spends lots of time in the cage, spends lots of time in the video room and spends lots of time practicing.'

"I think you need people around some super-talented guys who have the work ethic where they're going to practice all the time. I think they can learn something from that, because they realize that there's not just one way to be successful. It's not just about having talent; a lot of times it's about being able to prepare. When you prepare and work really hard, even athletes like me can make it to the big leagues."

Baker is aware he might have a future in managing, but he's not spending any energy thinking about that right now. He'll have plenty of time in the offseason to consider his options for next season, which he says include playing again or perhaps moving on to the next phase -- coaching, possibly in the minors or college. But while he's on a major league roster, his only concern is the present.

"Embrace the fact that you're at Wrigley Field and that you're playing against the Cardinals, and that's a really cool thing," Baker said. "The moment I start thinking about myself -- I hate to say it because I have a family that I'll have to take care of in the future -- but I consider those thoughts about my own future away from baseball while I'm a member of the Chicago Cubs is selfish and against what my entire philosophy of baseball [is]. And that philosophy is that every day we show up, it's our job to try to win the game -- and everything that I can do to try and win the game is what I'm supposed to do."

And, while the Cubs haven't done a lot of winning in 2014, or in the recent past, Baker is very confident that is about to change.

"Playing with these players, these younger players especially, that I've played with this year, I love the way their mindset is," Baker said. "Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in particular. Javy Baez, the way he plays, Jorge Soler, how excited he is to be here. I look at these young players and how good they are, how they're approaching baseball, I really feel like they're going to change this organization. It's something I would love to be a part of. I really feel there's going to be a World Series here in the not too distant future, and I'd love to be a part of that."

Cubs come across ideal offensive blueprint

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
6:29
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Jacob Turner Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJacob Turner lasted just five innings against the Dodgers offense.


CHICAGO -- Over one long weekend series, the Chicago Cubs caught an in-your-face glimpse of who they aspire to be one day one day in the future.

The playoff-contending Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way to a series victory, even when their top pitchers were far from at their best, and Sunday’s 8-5 defeat came when their opponent used only relief pitchers for nine innings.

From the fifth inning Thursday until the completion of Sunday’s game, the Dodgers scored an impressive 36 runs, showing that offense can carry a club even when the pitching staff isn’t first-rate.

Nobody is going to average nine runs a game for an entire season, but for a team that is expected to have Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro in key roles next season, the Cubs have the potential to light up a scoreboard over brief four-game stretches like the Dodgers just did.

“We have a lot of good hitters in here, a lot of young guys, and with the time and the experience I think we’re going to be really good,” said Welington Castillo, who hit an eighth-inning home run, two days after leaving a game with a rib injury.

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Getting on base could be Jorge Soler's real strength

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
9:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Throughout his short career, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler has been reaching different milestones with his offensive production. For example, he’s the first player since 1942 to record an RBI or extra-base hit in his first eight career games, and he’s the second Cub to produce 11 or more RBIs over that same time frame.

There have been other accomplishments over Soler's first 17 games -- through Friday's 14-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers -- but none might be more impressive, or more important, than this one: He’s just the third Cubs rookie -- and first since 1943 -- to reach base in 16 of his first 17 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJorge Soler's ability to get on base has buoyed the Cubs' overall standing in that department since his arrival.
A first-inning, run-scoring triple Friday off Clayton Kershaw gave Soler that distinction, and it matters more than the other ones because these Cubs still have huge trouble getting on base. It’s been the missing ingredient in Chicago's offense.

“What he does bring is a very mature, professional approach at the plate,” manager Rick Renteria said after Friday’s game. “Very disciplined approach. In some instances it’s how he’s been developed, in other instances he has a gift.”

The Cubs need more players with that gift, as they rank 28th in baseball in on-base percentage this season. That has to change if the Cubs are going to compete in the standings anytime soon -- and indeed, with Soler leading the charge, Chicago is 16th in September OBP. That’s a start.

“He’s performing actually to the numbers he’s brought with him from the minor leagues, which is not typical,” Renteria said.

There isn’t much that is typical about Soler’s game. Like fellow Cuban standout Yasiel Puig, Soler is a potential five-tool player. The Cubs right fielder was asked who’s a better player.

“He is,” Soler smiled, then said through an interpreter of the Dodgers outfielder, "he’s been in the big leagues longer.”

That might be the only reason Puig is better right now, because Soler is bigger and stronger. That will pay off.

“I think Soler’s pop is pretty different than a lot of guys,” former teammate Darwin Barney said. “The way he backspins the ball.”

Combine that “pop” with his ability to get on base and the Cubs might have a star in the making. As impressive as the big hits have been, his .397 on-base percentage is even better. And considering the home run potential the Cubs have, that on-base potential might be even more important than any other aspect to Soler’s game.

“It’s working very favorably right now," Renteria said simply, "and we hope it continues."

Jorge Soler to miss series for birth of child

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:07
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler will not play in this weekend’s series against the Pittsburgh Pirates so he can attend the birth of his child, the team announced on Friday.

Soler
Soler was to travel to Miami and is expected to return to Chicago when the Cubs open a homestand on Monday. Soler is hitting .356 with four home runs in 12 games since being called up from Triple-A last month.

A player on paternity leave may miss up to three games, according to Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement between the league and players.

The Cubs have lost six in a row and are already playing without All-Stars Anthony Rizzo (back) and Starlin Castro (ankle).

Soler will sit out on Sunday

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
12:28
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Despite the upcoming opportunity to insert Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler as a designated hitter, manager Rick Renteria opted to rest him on Sunday as part of a pre-determined schedule.

“He played 14 innings (Saturday),” Renteria said before the Cubs took on the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. “If we’re going to be consistent with the way we’re trying to manage these guys, that’s just the necessary thing we have to do.”

The Cubs have said all along that Soler will get rest every few days as they play it safe with a player who had two hamstring injuries earlier this season. The Cubs take on the Toronto Blue Jays on the road the next three days, but Renteria said there is no plan to DH Soler.

“We have a day off next Thursday so it won’t be needed unless he’s feeling some undue stress,” he said.

Sunday will be the third game Soler hasn’t started since being called up from the minors on Aug. 27. The Cubs have several off-days this month, which has helped his cause as well, but after a long Saturday in which they completed a suspended game and then played the regularly scheduled affair against Pittsburgh, Soler was given Sunday off.

Soler is hitting .382 with three home runs and 11 RBIs but is just 2-for-12 over the past three games.

Here’s the Cubs' Sunday lineup:

Arismendy Alcantara CF
Javier Baez SS
Chris Coghlan LF
Luis Valbuena 3B
Welington Castillo C
Ryan Kalish RF
Mike Olt 1B
Logan Watkins 2B
Travis Wood P


Just how good was Soler's first week?

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
8:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The list of Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler's early season accomplishments continues to grow with each game. And he will just be starting his second week in the big leagues when he takes the field Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJorge Soler has 10 RBIs in his first seven games.
Here's what he has done so far in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, in going 12-for-26 (.462) including three home runs, five doubles and 10 RBIs through seven games:

• Over the past 60 years, only Yasiel Puig, Paul Molitor and Mitchell Page produced at least 10 hits and 10 RBIs in their first seven career games.

• Soler tied the modern major-league record for consecutive games with an extra-base hit from the start of a career with five. The only other players to accomplish that in each of their first five big-league games were Will Middlebrooks in 2012 and Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter in 1938.

• Soler hit three home runs in his first three games. Javier Baez did the same earlier this season. The Cubs' duo joined Joe Cunningham (1954) as the only three players since 1900 to go long three times that quickly.

• And Soler is the fourth player in history to have an RBI in at least six of his first seven major-league games.

Soler's start is even better when you consider his age (22) and time in the minor leagues. Because of injuries he has totaled only one full season of at-bats despite being down on the farm from 2012 to '14.

"His at-bats are very close to what's been described to what he's been doing in the minor leagues," manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. "If you described them from the minor-league reports, it's exactly what's happening here right now. It's a great thing to see."

Jorge Soler heat mapESPN Stats & Information
That easy transition is the reason Soler is accomplishing so much. An initial burst has been followed up with plenty of good at-bats, even when the hits aren't coming. Pitchers haven't found a weakness as he has muscled balls to left field and also showed incredible power to the opposite field.

"He's got a gift," Renteria said. "He's got a great eye and is very calm in the box."

It's important to understand the difference between Soler and fellow Cuban phenom Jose Abreu. Abreu came ready-made. He started this year with the White Sox at 27 years old with plenty of experience in Cuba. Soler is five years younger and with that much less time on the field.

"What he's doing at that age and experience level is unbelievable," teammate Carlos Villanueva said.

And of course the difference between the starts Soler and Baez have had to their careers surrounds plate discipline and the swings and misses. Soler's strikeout percentage is about 21 percent. Baez is nearly double that number. You get the feeling that gap between the two may always be there.

So what's next for Soler? A hit on Friday would give him one in eight straight games. Only four players since 1920 have begun their careers with a hit in eight straight to go along with 10 or more RBIs. The last time it happened was 1993.

ESPN Stats & Information along with the Elias Sports Bureau should just monitor his every at-bat. At this rate, there's bound to be a new accomplishment whenever he steps to the plate.

Soler impresses again in home debut

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
5:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Talk to anyone that’s been around Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler, both in the minors and in his first week of his major league career, and three words keep coming up:

“He is strong.”

Jorge Soler
David Banks/Getty ImagesJorge Soler has at least one extra-base hit in his first five games in the majors.
That strength has propelled him to achieve a feat only two other players have accomplished in the last 100 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the third to earn at least one extra-base hit in his first five games in the majors after collecting two more in the Cubs' 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Soler’s Wrigley Field debut Monday. He blasted two balls to right field for doubles, one to the corner and one off the wall in right center.

“He stays inside the pitches really, really well,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “And then he stays through it. He really gets extension. He is what you would call ‘short to the ball and long through it.’”

It’s almost an inside-out feel to the swing considering neither pitch was on the outer half of the plate. But that’s not the case. It’s pure strength which propels what might be a simple fly ball for some players to an extra-base hit. Teams may have to start playing him closer to the warning track.

“Not many times have I gone deep over the right-field fence but I have that mental approach, towards the middle,” Soler said through an interpreter.

Renteria likened the finish to his swing to a pitcher’s follow through or an infielder’s motion on a good throw. The finish is what sets him apart.

(Read full post)

Soler batting 5th in Wrigley debut

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
1:02
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs rookie Jorge Soler will bat fifth and play right field in his Wrigley Field debut Monday after beginning his career 8-for-15 on the Cubs' just completed road trip.

“Since I signed as a pro, I’ve been waiting for this moment and I’m ready for it,” Soler said through an interpreter Monday morning. “I don’t know how the crowd will react, but I expect the way I‘ve been going, the crowd will be good on me.”

Past players to play right field have had a special relationship with fans going back to Andre Dawson in the 90’s and Sammy Sosa into the next decade. If Soler's start to his season is any indication what the bleacher faithful are getting, he’ll be a favorite pretty quickly.

“I’m just excited for him,” his manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s impacted us in a positive way. It will be fun for fans here in Chicago to put their eyes on him.”

What they’ll see is a freakish athlete who can seemingly do it all on the baseball field. It’s why the Cubs signed him to a nine-year contract in 2012 and why they believed him when he told them earlier this season it was “his time.”

“I stand by it,” Soler said. “I accepted the challenge. I wanted to be the Jorge Soler I’m showing I am right now.”

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Anthony Rizzo (back) out of lineup again

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
9:44
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is not in the starting lineup for the second straight game against the Cincinnati Reds after leaving the series opener on Tuesday with lower back tightness.

Rizzo
Rizzo didn’t play in Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to the Reds and gets another day of rest on Thursday. Cubs officials don’t believe the injury is serious. Chris Valaika will get his second straight start at first base and bat seventh.

Outfielder Jorge Soler is back in the lineup on Thursday, batting fifth and playing right field again after homering in his first at-bat in his major league debut on Wednesday night.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cubs became the first team in history to have two players, each 22 or younger, hit a home run in their first major league games in the same season. Second baseman Javier Baez (21) also homered in his first game earlier this month in Colorado. Soler went 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs in the loss.

Here’s the Cubs lineup against the Reds:

1. Chris Coghlan LF
2. Baez 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Luis Valbuena, 3B
5. Soler, RF
6. Arismendy Alcantara, CF
7. Valaika, 1B
8. John Baker, C
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Jorge Soler excited for opportunity

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
6:06
PM CT
By Mark Schmetzer
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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CINCINNATI -- The player Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein described as having the body of an athlete perhaps more suited to the National Football League donned his jersey with a lineman’s number – 68 – and took the field at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for his highly anticipated major league debut Wednesday.

Jorge Soler, 22, batting fifth and playing right field against the Reds, was just trying to keep his emotions under control.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It took Jorge Soler only four pitches to tally his first career home run.

“I’m so excited,” Soler said through coaching staff assistant and interpreter Franklin Font while sitting in the steamy visitors dugout about three hours before the scheduled 6:10 p.m. CT first pitch. “I’m thankful for the team giving me this opportunity. I’ve waited two years for this moment.”

Part of Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s job is to help the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed slugging prospect keep his emotions under control. Renteria already has a lot of experience with that task this season, based on the number of prospects who’ve made their major league debuts with the Cubs this season. Soler will make it eight.

“I’m sure it’s pretty high and I’m hoping that, like all these guys, after the first pitch, first swing, first play, first run or whatever it is, it kind of dissipates, and then you just go out and play baseball,” Renteria said before Wednesday’s game about Soler’s level of emotion.

Soler was with Iowa in Tacoma, Washington, when manager Marty Pevey told him Monday that he was being called up to the major leagues.

“I was real surprised,” said Soler, who figured the Cubs would wait until Sept. 1 when active rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40.

Soler arrived in Cincinnati about 11 p.m. Tuesday after a day of traveling from Tacoma, so he wasn’t even in town when his arrival became even more important to the Cubs. Right fielder Ryan Sweeney left Tuesday’s game in the second inning with a left hamstring strain, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo departed in the eighth with tightness in his lower back, but not before logging his 30th home run of the season in the first inning.

Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, along with outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who has left-ankle inflammation. Ruggiano's assignment is retroactive to Aug. 23.

Rizzo’s status was less definitive, but more hopeful for the Cubs.

“It’s day-to-day,” Renteria said. “We’ll check in throughout the day today as he’s being treated and see how he’s doing. Hopefully, we’ll have a better idea of how he’s feeling during the ballgame.”

Rizzo’s injury deprived the Cubs of immediately seeing what their lineup would look like with his and Soler’s bats present at the same time. Renteria has given little to no thought about how he will deploy the two when both are available.

“I’ll kind of figure that out as we go along,” he said. “Right now, I have him where I have him. We’ll see how he fits when everybody’s healthy and we see how some of the matchups play out. You would have to allow me an opportunity to at least see him a little bit before I start deciding on how I’m going to proceed.”

Meanwhile, Renteria was doing what he could to ease Soler’s transition.

“I welcomed him, made sure he got together with [third-base coach Gary Jones] to make sure he’s got the signs, and let him know that if there’s anything we can do for him to let us know, but to just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.

Did Soler have anything Renteria could do for him?

“He just smiled,” the manager said. “This is a great opportunity. They’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball, and you want them to feel comfortable. You want them to know that you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in, and we’re hoping that they have success.”

Epstein: Time was right for Jorge Soler

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
4:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Declaring it is the "right time to bring him up here," Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein says outfield prospect Jorge Soler needs the playing time after an injury-plagued start to his 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJorge Solar
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsJorge Soler will bat fifth in his debut with the Cubs on Wednesday.
"We've been certain in our minds for a while he was going to be a September call-up," Epstein said Wednesday. "The key to the decision to bring up Soler is he was going to be a call-up for us mainly because he needs the at-bats."

The Iowa Cubs aren't looking like a playoff team, and their regular season ends Monday, so Soler will get the extra at-bats in the majors. He'll make his debut batting fifth and playing right field Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

Soler hurt both his hamstrings earlier this season, forcing him to miss all of April and most of May. When he finally got healthy -- thanks in part to some dramatic work by the training staff -- Soler vowed to impress.

"The turning point for Jorge was how he handled the second hamstring injury," Epstein said. "Instead of getting really down on himself and pouting, he really embraced that adversity as an opportunity to get better. At the same time, he was watching what Javier [Baez] and Kris Bryant were doing. We got the sense he wanted to catch up a little bit, as well.

"He communicated he was on a mission."

Soler caught up quickly. He hit .340 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs in 62 games in the minors, putting himself in a position for the promotion. His plate discipline continues to be his strength, as his walk totals are more in line with a veteran hitter. His on-base percentage this season is .432. That's partly what makes him unique. That, and his physical presence.

"He was born with a very advanced approach at the plate," Epstein said. "The first things fans will notice is how impressive he is physically. He's put together like an NFL player."

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound, 22-year-old power hitter who can handle the strike zone doesn't come along very often. It's one reason the Cubs extended a nine-year, $30 million contract to him back in 2012.

"All things being equal, we prefer our higher profile prospects to break in on the road where they can just play and keep distractions to a minimum," Epstein said. "He's made tremendous strides with his swing mechanics and swing path. ... His ground balls have become line drives. His line drives have become fly balls. His fly balls tend to leave the ballpark."

Soler's promotion would never have happened without him getting healthy. After his second hamstring injury, the Cubs grew concerned there might be something chronic going on. They did a full body work-up.

"He had a disproportionate amount of his muscle mass located on the front of his body, and that was creating some inequalities and putting extra strain on his hamstrings when he made some athletic movements," Epstein said. "The training staff has tried to redistribute some of that muscle mass, make him more balanced between his anterior and posterior sides."

That's when Soler put it on himself to show the world why the Cubs had invested so much in him. Now he'll join former Iowa Cubs such as Baez and Arismendy Alcantara for a 4 ½-week learning experience.

"This is the right time to bring him up here," Epstein said.

Series preview: Cubs at Reds

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
4:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

Tuesday: Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (15-7, 2.20), 6:10 p.m.
Wednesday: Jacob Turner (4-7, 5.77) vs. Mat Latos (4-3, 2.99), 6:10 p.m.
Thursday: Jake Arrieta (7-4, 2.53) vs. Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 3.00), 11:35 a.m.

Castro returns: Shortstop Starlin Castro is back after missing the last five games due to a family tragedy in the Dominican Republic. A car accident claimed the lives of several friends and a relative. Castro had played in all 125 games this season for the Cubs, making his third All-Star team, before leaving the team last Wednesday.

Soler debuts: He's not in the lineup Tuesday but he 22-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler should be on Wednesday for his major league debut. Soler signed a nine-year contract in 2012 but was plagued by injuries the past two seasons. Once healthy, he took off for Triple-A Iowa, hitting three home runs over his final four games, including one on Monday night before being pulled from the game and getting promoted.

Who's Hot/Who's Not: Arismendy Alcantara has gotten hot again. He was 8-for-23 (.348) on the most recent home stand, including a go-ahead home run in the series finale sweep of the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. ... Although he hit two home runs on the home stand, Javier Baez was just 3-for-22 (.136).

Plate discipline helps Soler's rapid rise

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
9:40
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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After only about a season's worth of at-bats in his entire minor league career, Chicago Cubs outfield prospect Jorge Soler is headed for the major leagues. He'll most likely debut in Cincinnati this week, according to sources familiar with the situation.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP PhotoJorge Soler had a .494 on-base percentage in 22 games at Double-A Tennessee before being promoted to Triple-A Iowa.
Soler, 22, was injured last year and earlier this season, so he hasn't played a full season yet in the minors. But in compiling 15 home runs and 57 RBIs to go along with a .340 batting average in Double-A and Triple-A this season, the Cubs deemed him ready for prime time.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, teammates say he's a "freakish" athlete who has the potential to be a five-tool player, although he wasn't a stolen base threat in the minor leagues. But that potential is one reason the Cubs signed the Cuban native to a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012.

Since recovering from two different hamstring injuries, Soler has been on fire in Double-A and then Triple-A. He batted .415 -- with a .494 on-base percentage -- with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 22 games at Double-A Tennessee before his promotion to Triple-A Iowa, where his slash line is .282 AVG/.378 OBP/.618 SLG with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 32 games.

Of all the Cubs prospects, Soler is being fast-tracked to the major leagues for two likely reasons: He has already signed a long-term major league contract, and he might have the best plate discipline of them all. The Cubs have always been up front about the fact that strikeouts and walks are a big factor in determining promotions at all levels. Since he signed with the Cubs, Soler has been on the right side of that equation.

In three minor league seasons, he has struck out a total of 105 times against 66 walks. This year he has 41 strikeouts and 29 walks split between Double-A and Triple-A. That's a 1.41 ratio. For comparison, Javier Baez had a 3.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio before being called up. Top prospect Kris Bryant has a 1.83 ratio this year, meaning he's close, as well. Considering Soler's age and experience, he has proved that he has the plate discipline of a more seasoned veteran.

On-base percentage is still a major concern for the Cubs, who rank second to last in the National League (.298) this season. Soler should help in that department as his .432 on-base percentage in the minors this season is off the charts. Bryant has that ability, too. When the Cubs start to reach base more often, their transformation on offense will be complete.

For now, Soler gets the same chance that fellow called-up prospects Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are getting: a head-start on 2015.

And fans get to see another piece to the puzzle debut.

Logan Watkins on front line of Cubs' rebuild

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
10:14
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If anyone can speak to the quality and depth of the Chicago Cubs prospect pool, it's newly demoted utility man Logan Watkins.

Watkins, 24, has been in the Cubs system since being drafted in 2008. He has played with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro -- in the minors and at the major league level -- and next to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. He had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2013 and was needed last week as Castro was dealing with a death in his family and played well, batting .300 in four games before being sent down Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Michael Spomer/Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesJorge Soler is a "freakish athlete" who has a good approach at the plate, according to Logan Watkins.
"Like I said when I first came up, it's one of the most talented teams I've played on," Watkins said Sunday of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team this season.

Many of those talented Iowa Cubs were with him in the majors, save Bryant and Soler. Major league sources indicate the Cubs might not be done making trades this month, which could open a roster spot for either player, although the Cubs have already indicated Bryant isn't coming up. After a five-hit Saturday, plus three more including a home run on Sunday, Soler could be close.

"He's a freak but has a good approach at the plate," Watkins said. "He's not just up there just swinging."

Baez has shown a propensity to swing at anything -- see his 41.9 percent strikeout rate -- but Watkins believes Baez might be the most dangerous because he says pitchers will end up "pitching not to make mistakes."

Like outfielder Matt Szczur, Watkins' only chance to stick with the Cubs in the future likely is as a utility player. Nearly every time the organization wanted to look at a more highly touted prospect at a new position in Iowa, Watkins was moved around the diamond. When Arismendy Alcantara was moved from shortstop to second base at Triple-A, Watkins went to the outfield.

When Alcantara started playing more center field, Watkins went back to second base. And when Baez was preparing for his final promotion and moved to second, Watkins switched places with him and took over at shortstop.

"I feel like I've increased my value this year because I played everywhere," Watkins said. "I want to make myself a luxury for the manager. They're building a championship team here. I want to be a part of it."

Whether fans believe in the Cubs' rebuilding plan or not, the young talent believes in itself. The players think something special is on the way even if they can't see every detail of the plan yet.

"I think we're pretty much set up the middle if those two guys stay healthy," Watkins said of Castro and Baez. "Kris [Bryant] is a polished hitter. He goes pitch-to-pitch. He's going to play the game a long, long time."

But it's Soler who's next up. Even if the Cubs don't make a waiver deal between now and Sept. 1, rosters will expand for the final month and fans will get to see the best pure athlete of the group.

"He can do it all," Watkins said. "Obviously there are things he has to work on, but that's a freakish athlete."

6 things we'd like to see in final 6 weeks

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
11:15
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jorge SolerMichael Spomer/Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesTriple-A Iowa outfielder Jorge Soler is in a 2-for-24 slump through Sunday's games.
The Chicago Cubs begin the final six weeks of the season on Monday and, at 53-70 going into their game against the New York Mets, it's all about getting ready for next season. They might play spoiler along the way, but that's secondary to finding out more about them heading into 2015.

Here are six things we'd like to see in the final six weeks:

1. Call up Soler: The Cubs have more than intimated that 22-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler will likely make it to the majors before season's end. The only question is when? At the time of outfielder Matt Szczur's call-up on Saturday in New York, Soler was in an 0-for-15 skid, so maybe that has delayed things. Just as likely was allowing the hard-working Szczur to make his debut not far from where he grew up in New Jersey and later became a two-sport star at Villanova. Soler is batting .329 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs -- to go along with 28 walks -- in just 55 games this season in the minors. Arguably the most disciplined hitter of all the top prospects, Soler should get more than just a cursory look in September. The more at-bats he gets now, the better he'll be next season. He's one guy who will take a walk. Let's see if that carries over to the majors.

2. Adjust the lineup: Manager Rick Renteria admittedly isn't putting guys in their long-term spots in the order. That's been all right considering the batting order might be the most over-argued notion in baseball. General manager Jed Hoyer often paraphrases statistician Bill James when it comes to the lineup: Put your good hitters near the top and everyone else near the bottom. Pretty simple. In the Cubs' case, it's just a reworking at the top that would be interesting to watch over the final six weeks. On Monday, Renteria had Arismendy Alcantara back batting leadoff. Good. Leave him there. Alcantara slumped when moved to the No. 6 hole. He just doesn't feel right there. He had an on-base percentage of .314 batting in the 1 or 2 spot when he first came up. It dipped to .196 hitting sixth. And it's time to move Starlin Castro out of the cleanup spot. Let's see Alcantara and Castro hitting first and second the rest of the season. Anthony Rizzo is fine at No. 3, then try Javier Baez at No. 4 and Soler at No. 5. If the Cubs wanted to debut Soler in the No. 2 hole, that would also make sense. They slotted Alcantara and Baez there when they arrived.

[+] EnlargeJacob Turner
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe Cubs should find out what they have in 23-year-old Jacob Turner.
3. Start Turner: Jacob Turner looked good in his first relief stint for the Cubs since being acquired from the Miami Marlins, so let's see him in the rotation for a turn or two. Turner could step in if the Cubs could finally banish Edwin Jackson to the bullpen. Or they could just add a sixth starter as they just did in giving Dan Straily a turn. Turner's results won't matter as much as seeing his stuff. Pitching coach Chris Bosio needs a full offseason and spring training to get the most out of him, but a quick look wouldn't hurt the process.

4. Let others close: The Cubs allowed Pedro Strop to close out a few games last season to see what he could do, so why not do the same this year with some other relievers? It has nothing to do with the job Hector Rondon (17 saves in 22 opportunities, 3.23 ERA) has done. He's been nothing short of fantastic considering his place in baseball entering this season, but it doesn't hurt to know who might have the mental makeup for the job other than Rondon. Neil Ramirez, who has three saves already, is an obvious choice to get a few more chances. Blake Parker has been the main closer at Triple-A Iowa, but the Cubs know what they have in him. Some might want to see how Armando Rivero would react or flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino. But the latter has struggled (6.06 ERA) since being promoted to Iowa, while Rivero has thrived (1.78). Either way, expect Rivero to be in a Cubs uniform soon.

5. Give Olt another shot: With third base still lacking an everyday starter, there is no reason not to bring Mike Olt back up as the calendar turns to September, then play him every day. Olt has been tearing up Triple-A pitching. Maybe that's all he'll ever do, but he deserves another chance with no one standing in his way, at least over the next six weeks. Olt is batting .313 with a .361 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 26 games at Iowa. Maybe he's found his stroke again.

6. Leave Bryant at Iowa: Bryant's misfortune could be Olt's gain because the Cubs say he's not coming up to the big leagues this season. Plus, he just hurt his toe, so he'll miss some time anyway. If you didn't know by now, leaving Bryant in the minors until at least mid-April next year would set him up to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Any earlier and free agency would come a year sooner. At this rate, it's better to accept that fate than lose sleep over it. Undoubtedly, he'll be named the minor league player of the year, which would add to an already stocked trophy case: He was collegiate player of the year in 2013, then won the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, won the home run derby title in Double-A this year and would top it off with his monster year in the minors, which has already produced 40 home runs and over 100 RBIs. Leave him where he is.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Starlin Castro
BA HR RBI R
.292 14 65 58
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
WJ. Arrieta 10
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167