Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler

Baez joins Soler on DL

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
1:32
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs top prospect Javier Baez is on the seven-day Triple-A minor league disabled list after turning his ankle taking ground balls on Friday, according to the team.

Baez is hitting .214 with two home runs and three RBIs in eight games this season. He joins fellow prospect Jorge Soler, who is on the DL in Double-A after re-injuring a hamstring running out a double in his first at-bat of the season.

Baez is the seventh-ranked prospect in baseball, according to ESPN.com. Soler is 26th.

Minors report: Soler hurt, Bryant homers

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
1:04
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Opening day didn't go well for Chicago Cubs Double-A prospect Jorge Soler as he left Thursday night's game against Pensacola after re-injuring his left hamstring running out a double in his first at-bat.

"We'll probably get an MRI [Friday] and see how it is," general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday morning from Wrigley Field.

Soler was slowed near the end of spring training with the sore hamstring and Hoyer indicated he may have rushed himself back to be available on Opening Day.

Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012 but was slowed by a foot injury last season. He's ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Cubs organization by MLB.com.

Bryant homers: In the same game that Soler left due to his injury, Kris Bryant, the second pick of the 2013 draft, homered in his first at-bat of the season. He went deep off Cincinnati Reds starter Matt Latos, who was making a rehab start.

"It was nice he did it against a big-leaguer," Hoyer said.

Latos beaned Bryant later in the game while the slugger also walked, struck out and scored two runs.

Baez debuts: Top prospect Javier Baez started his stint at Triple-A Iowa with a walk and two strikeouts and made an error.

The Cubs plan to be patient with him.

"I don't see us wavering on that one," Hoyer said. "He does have development left. We told him 'Go dominate Iowa.' If (he) dominates Iowa and Triple-A (he) puts the pressure on us."

Former No. 1 pick Josh Vitters homered for Iowa and starter Chris Rusin lasted just 3 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and five runs.

5 for '14: When will top prospects arrive?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonTop prospect Javier Baez could join the Cubs by June.
MESA, Ariz. -- All the losing the Chicago Cubs have endured over the past few seasons is about to pay off. At least in a small way.

If all goes right in 2014, fans should finally be able to see some of the team's heralded prospects, some of whom have vaulted the farm system into the top five in all of baseball. By being out of the playoff race by midseason, the front office has been able to focus on the future by trading aging veterans for younger players, and to pick high in the annual June draft.

And now some of those young players are nearly ready for prime time.

The Cubs have a "big four" of position player prospects in No. 1 draft choices Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant to go along with Cuban-born outfielder Jorge Soler. But the first of the major names to make it to Wrigley Field may not be any of those players.

Right-handed starter Kyle Hendricks (13-4, 2.00 ERA in 2013) could arrive quicker than any of them, while reliever Arodys Vizcaino is also waiting in the wings. They'll start the season at Triple-A Iowa just like Baez. Hendricks was acquired for Ryan Dempster in 2012, while Vizcaino came for Paul Maholm while Vizcaino was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now healthy, Vizcaino can get near 100 mph with his fastball; he impressed observers in the first bullpen sessions he threw this spring. Hendricks is your classic thinker on the mound.

Pitchers rather than position players are more likely to come up for an appearance or two if they're needed. While the Cubs want to make sure Baez is ready at the plate and in the field, guys like Hendricks and Vizcaino along with rising prospect Eric Jokisch could be at Wrigley Field anytime.

But when Baez shows up, people will take notice. After hitting 37 home runs at Class A and Double-A last season, he came into Cubs camp and put on a show. He crushed the ball to the opposite field and made adjustments at the plate he wasn't always doing previously. He also got a taste of playing second base since he'll have to play somewhere besides shortstop when he's called up with Starlin Castro entrenched there.

But Baez has to prove he's matured as a hitter for longer than a few weeks during spring training. The Cubs can also save some long-term money by waiting to bring him up until late June or July. When they do, pitchers beware. His swing is as vicious as they come.

The other major names are at the lower levels of the minor leagues, but all can make big jumps. Bryant could finish the season at Triple-A Iowa, as could Soler. Almora is a baseball rat and should make major leaps from Class A, if he stays healthy.

But first up probably are the pitchers, and then Baez. There could be a surprise or two, as well -- infielder Arismendy Alcantara is getting close and outfielder Matt Szczur played great defense this spring. They're both in Triple-A. The good news is that the wait to see these players in the major leagues is nearly over.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein promised that the Cubs wouldn't rush their prospects but would call them up when they're ready.

They're almost ready.

Almora, Bryant, Soler sent out; Baez stays

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
6:53
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs prospects Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler were among nine players sent to minor league camp on Wednesday, while top prospect Javier Baez survived the first round of cuts.

“They’ve shown their ability to be professionals here in terms of how they carried themselves and how they worked,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday afternoon. “Now it’s time for them to get down there and get some more at-bats and get ready for the regular season.”

Almora was 5-for-9 in spring games, Bryant hit two long home runs and Soler helped win a game with a ninth-inning triple last week.

“Like all players, they were a little disappointed. But they know there is a purpose and a reason for everything that we do,” Renteria said.

The Cubs indicated all winter that none of their top picks over the past few years were going to break camp with the team, no matter how well they played this spring. Each player will have to “dominate” at his level in the minors before moving up, according to team president Theo Epstein.

Baez will be sent to minor league camp soon, as well, but not before the Cubs see him play second and third base after being at shortstop all spring. That’s where he’ll likely play when he makes it to the majors, as Starlin Castro is the incumbent at shortstop. Baez should start to move around the infield next week.

Joining Almora, Bryant and Soler in going to minor league camp will be Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins, Matt Szczur, Eric Jokisch, Jeudy Valdez and Carlos Pimentel. Outfielder Aaron Cunningham was granted his release from the club.

Almora is likely to start the season at Class A Daytona, Bryant and Soler at Double-A Tennessee, and Baez and Alcantara at Triple-A Iowa.

Even though the players were sent out, they can still play in major league spring games. Bryant and Baez are scheduled to travel to Las Vegas this weekend for exhibitions against the New York Mets.

'Big 4' prospects showing big things

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
1:06
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonAfter a solid spring, Javier Baez will start the season at Triple-A Iowa
MESA, Ariz. -- Their playing time has been sparse and their days in big league camp might be dwindling, but that doesn’t mean the “Big 4” haven’t had their moments. In fact, first-round picks Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, along with Cuban signee Jorge Soler, have all stood out at one time or another. Before they leave us for their minor league destinations, let’s examine how the future of the Cubs has looked so far.

Javier Baez: .333 (6 for 18), 2 doubles, 2 HRs, 2 RBIs, 0 BBs, 3 Ks
Expected to start at Triple-A Iowa


He’s handled everything well enough so far that the Cubs feel comfortable moving him around the diamond as they said they would during the winter. Early in camp Baez set a goal for himself to hit the ball to the right side when needed and he’s done that. He took an outside fastball over the fence in right field for one of his two home runs and he’s continued to show better plate discipline despite not earning a walk. He’s helped turn three double plays while making a team-leading 18 assists at shortstop with no errors. All he has to do to make it to the big leagues is keep up this kind of progress, but everyone knows the Cubs won’t want to start his “clock” too soon. If he’s up before late June or early July it’s because he forced his way to Wrigley Field with his play. Plus, watching him swing a bat -- it’s vicious -- is entertainment in itself.

(Read full post)

Soler learned from his 'big mistake'

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
11:27
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- There's one day that Chicago Cubs prospect Jorge Soler regrets more than any other in his short career.

As a member of the Cubs' Class A Daytona team last April 10, he ran across the field toward the Clearwater Threshers' dugout in a Florida State League game. It came moments after words were exchanged regarding contact at second base on a slide by Soler.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesJorge Soler has impressed his new manager Rick Renteria with his composure.
And Soler had a bat in his hand.

"You have to respect baseball and my teammates," Soler said through a translator Wednesday morning from spring training. "It was a big mistake that I made. But I learned from it."

He never swung the bat at anyone, but the incident made headlines and got him suspended for five games. It also created doubts about his character after the Cubs signed him to a nine-year, $30 million deal the previous summer.

"He wasn't used to the game in the USA," friend and teammate at the time Javier Baez said. "It's completely different. Everything is a fight in Latin America. We argue more."

The front office told Soler that he needed to calm down; indications are he has. New Cubs manager Rick Renteria has a different impression of Soler than the one he earned that day.

"Very calm," Renteria said. "It doesn't look like pressure affects him very much."

When reminded of the April incident, Renteria preferred to look ahead.

"From what I've seen, he's very composed," Renteria said.

But after returning from the suspension, Soler suffered a stress fracture in his left leg that ended his season prematurely in late June. First a suspension, then an injury. In between, he hit .281 with a .343 on-base percentage to go along with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in just 55 games. But his season was over.

"It was a rough year," Soler said. "But I'm working hard to be better. I'm in good shape. I've been running a lot. I have no soreness or anything. Everything is 100 percent."

After getting healthy, it didn't get any better for him in October and November when scouts said he was lazy during Arizona Fall League play. But the Cubs insist they told him to take it easy coming back from the injury and explained he wasn't in game shape because of inactivity. He made the all-star team anyway.

Still, the hype surrounding him has seemingly been bypassed for players such as Baez and 2013 No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant.

"I'm working every day on my hitting skills and getting better," Soler said. "Leaving the bat in the strike zone a little bit longer."

Soler wouldn't be the first player to lose some of his hunger and love for the game because he's earning a fat paycheck, but he insists that's not the case.

"I don't think about the contract when I'm going to play," Soler said. "I'm still hungry and want to help the team."

He can do that with what Renteria calls a "very high skill set." At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Soler looks the part of a great athlete. His five-tool ability is the reason the Cubs signed him to such a lucrative deal at such a young age. He turned 22 on Tuesday, so maybe the maturity will come.

"He just needs to get used to being here," Baez said. "He'll be fine."

Renteria compared Soler's "physicality" and athleticism to Ken Griffey Jr. at the same age, although was quick to leave the comparison there.

As for Soler, he's working on his swing in camp -- he wants to keep the bat through the hitting zone a fraction longer -- and he wants to put the bat incident behind him. He'll start the season at Double-A Tennessee.

"I just have to calm down," he said. "That can never happen again."

Countdown to Camp: Biggest question

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Junior LakeRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJunior Lake will have to prove this season that he can be a long-term answer for the Cubs.
MESA, Ariz. -- The biggest question facing the Chicago Cubs this season is how many young players can make their way into the core group.

In a very best-case scenario, prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Kyle Hendricks and possibly even Jorge Soler will be knocking on the door. Not all will make it to Chicago in 2014, and not all will be locks as long-term answers, but the Cubs don't need them all to be -- just a few. At the major league level, all eyes will be on Junior Lake in left field. Will he be a long-term answer, as well?

SportsNation

What is the biggest question mark for the Cubs in 2014?

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    20%
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    51%
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    23%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 914)

This question even supersedes the need for Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to have big years. The next two seasons are critical for the Cubs' overall plan to work. These young position players have to start to make it to the big leagues and establish themselves or the plan is stuck in mud. At the same time, the Cubs need to find more pitching. It might come with the No. 4 pick in the draft this June, or it might come in the form of some pitching currently in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

Coming off a stellar 2013 (13-4, 2.00 ERA), Hendricks is next up among the starters. Without devastating stuff, he has to rely on his know-how, and for the Dartmouth graduate, it might be enough. But he still has question marks attached to his future, as do most of the Cubs prospects on the mound.

A best-case scenario has Olt producing right away at third base, Lake in left and Baez coming up to play second base with a rejuvenated Castro at shortstop. Or maybe Alcantara finds his way into the lineup. Then next year, the outfielders come in the form of Soler and Bryant -- assuming he switches position because of Olt's success -- followed by Albert Almora. Again, not all will make it, but at least the Cubs have several options at multiple positions. That's the key. Let competition among players help decide the future.

These are the big questions for 2014 (and 2015), but there aren't enough answers on the mound right now. Off the field, it's something the front office has to address. On the field, how the position player core shapes up is the biggest question mark.

And a fun one to watch.

Countdown to Camp: Prospects outlook

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
BaezJake Roth/USA TODAY SportsJavier Baez showed plate discipline as he moved up in he minor leagues last season.
With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Friday in Mesa, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.

Prospect candidates: INF Javier Baez, Christian Villanueva, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, C Rafael Lopez, P Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler, OF Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Jorge Soler
Best Bets: Baez, Alcantara, Hendricks

SportsNation

After Javier Baez, which Cubs prospect has the best chance to be in the big leagues in 2014?

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    48%
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    23%
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    15%
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    11%
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    3%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,403)

One thing is clear about the slew of prospects the Cubs should be seeing make it to the big leagues in the coming years: They won't be coming based on the needs of the major league club at that moment. The front office has repeated the notion that prospects need to dominate the level at which they're playing before any promotions occur. They also need to meet certain goals established by the club.

While it's doubtful any prospects who didn't play in the big leagues last season are expected to make the club out of spring training -- except perhaps Mike Olt -- there's a very good chance the Cubs will promote several throughout the season. And a few of them are considered elite names.

None are bigger than 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez.

After a monster season (37 home runs, 111 RBIs) at Single-A and Double-A in 2013, Baez is poised to see Wrigley Field for the first time by the end of 2014 -- if not sooner. He'll have to maintain the plate discipline he showed after being promoted last year, and considering his already violent and damaging swing, there's a good chance he could be in Chicago by late June. But the Cubs have been erring on the side of caution with their prospects so there's no guarantee. Then again, if he dominates at Triple-A Iowa they won't have a choice but to promote him.

There's also the issue of service time as the Cubs will probably follow the Anthony Rizzo timeline if a particular prospect doesn't make it out of spring training. It prevents them from having "Super Two" status and an earlier chance at arbitration. Rizzo came up from the minors on June 26, 2012.

Infielder Arismendy Alcantara is another candidate to come up midseason. His stock has risen as much as anyone's over the last 12 months or so. But unlike Baez, Alcantara might need a near full season at Triple-A before he gets his chance. Same goes for pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Like Baez, Hendricks also had a huge year in 2013 (13-4, 2.00 ERA) between Double-A and Triple-A. Those three players are next up to make it to the Cubs.

It still leaves others an opportunity if they indeed dominate. Infielder Christian Villanueva will play alongside Baez and Alcantara at Triple-A and there's always a chance former first-rounder Josh Vitters or even Brett Jackson find their groove.

Then there is the No. 2 overall pick of last year, Kris Bryant. He'll most likely start at Double-A Tennessee, but it might not take until mid-June to see him move up again. After all, he spent very little time at the Single-A level last year where he dominated, and then won Arizona Fall League MVP honors. If Bryant makes it to Iowa by June, there's a chance he's at Wrigley Field before season's end. It's not likely due to the Cubs conservative approach, but either way Bryant could be just one year away from being a big-league starter.

Jorge Soler is in the same boat as Bryant but might need more playing time as his 2013 season was cut short because of injuries.

All this is predicated on performance. Baez is the best bet because of his raw talent and his development when he moved up to Double-A last season. His plate discipline actually got better at the higher level. That's what the Cubs want to see. At the very least Hendricks and Alcantara should be September call-ups unless their performance dictates otherwise.

Olt remains a wild card because of his vision problems of last year -- though it was only two seasons ago he was considered untouchable within the Texas Rangers organization.

The Cubs are in the midst of transitioning from an older team to a much younger one. It started with Junior Lake in the second half of last season and it should continue with the eventual promotion of Baez.

And more are on their way.

Bryant likely to start season at Double-A

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
4:41
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- After spending just 36 games at the lower levels of the minor leagues in 2013, third baseman Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs' top draft pick in 2013, is expected to start this season at Double-A Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeChris Bryant
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKris Bryant appears headed to Double-A to start the 2014 season.
"Kris probably has a good chance at starting at Double-A," Cubs scouting director Jason McLeod said Wednesday. "I don't think it's dead-set, but he played a lot this year to earn the opportunity to go there."

Bryant earned it by winning honors as the top collegiate player in 2013 as well as MVP of the Arizona Fall League. In between, he hit .336 with 9 home runs combined at three different stops in the minors. Now the No. 2 overall pick last summer will make the jump to Double-A where he will play third base.

"I have the confidence in myself to go out there every day and compete against the best," said Bryant, one of 15 Cubs prospects who worked out indoors at Northwestern on Wednesday. "I think if you have that type of confidence then sky's the limit."

Cubs brass has often said their prospects need to "dominate" at every level before advancing. If Bryant can dominate Double-A there's no reason to believe he won't move up to Triple-A in 2014. That puts him a phone call away from the big leagues.

"If they're ready, then they're ready," McLeod said. "We're not going to rush them up. We're in this for the right reasons and the long haul."

It's still a longshot that Bryant actually sees Wrigley Field this summer in any role other than a spectator, but he is on track. And if it doesn't happen in 2014 then 2015 should be his year.

"No pressure," Bryant said. "If you let pressure creep in then you're not having fun."

Here's a look at some of the other promising prospects the Cubs brought in early for a rookie development program in advance of the fan convention being held this weekend.

(Read full post)

Cubs' rebuilding plan showing progress

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
12:33
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jed Hoyer, Theo EpsteinAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have led a complete overhaul of the Cubs that is starting to show progress.
This World Series is a tough watch for a Chicago Cubs fan. The rival St. Louis Cardinals continue to show off why they're the most respected organization in the game, while Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer's former team, the Boston Red Sox, is still reaping some rewards from the duo's time in Boston.

Cubs fans must be wondering when that magic is going to start to take place at Wrigley Field.

It's a valid question, and it's become obvious the fan base is split on this issue. Some believe better days are around the corner, while others simply answer that question with "never." If you don't believe better days are ahead for the Cubs then you aren't paying attention or you're just paying attention to their win/loss record. Or maybe you're worried about the managerial search, which hasn't produced any big-name candidates.

I just returned from watching Cubs prospects in the Arizona Fall League, and what I saw in Arizona is more important than whoever they hire to manage.

I saw two prospects, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, who most baseball observers believe are special. And yes, it's only fall baseball, but would you rather have Cubs prospects prospering wherever they're playing or struggling? Anyway, analyzing two players is too small-picture right now.

You may disagree with their entire rebuilding strategy -- that's another argument -- but if you're on board then you should be very pleased with 2013. Forget the record 50 home losses. Forget the putrid play for long stretches. Forget the record number of players they used on their roster for the second consecutive season. It's all by design.

(Read full post)

Scouts' take: Soler needs to find his groove

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
7:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Editor's note: The sooner the Chicago Cubs hire a new manager, the sooner he can get a look at the team's top prospects. That's what Jesse Rogers is doing this week as he takes in a few days of Arizona Fall League action.

MESA, Ariz. -- It's as if Cubs prospect Jorge Soler keeps having to start his career over again. Just as he was getting needed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League -- after missing so much time in 2013 -- Soler had to leave the Mesa Solar Sox for "residency" issues. Soler, a Cuban defector, will be back at the end of the week, so there's plenty of time to find his groove again. But according to a consensus of scouts watching fall ball, he has work to do.

"He's kind of raw for me," one scout said. "His bat speed isn't there."

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsInjuries have slowed Cubs prospect Jorge Soler, who has had a rough 2013 season as he looks to make an impact.
"Raw" was a word that described Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012, before injuries and other setbacks practically ruined his 2013 season in the minors. He's far from a lost cause, but he has fallen behind other prospects mostly because of a foot injury that kept him in a walking boot for most of the second half of his minor league season.

"He's getting into baseball shape," Cubs Triple-A hitting coach Brian Harper said. "He wasn't running as he normally does. He was a little tentative. Now he's starting to run better and feels better."

Harper is one of the coaches for the Mesa Solar Sox, where Soler is hitting .229 with nine strikeouts and zero walks. His plate discipline was a plus during spring training this past February and March, so he needs to find that again. Harper understands what the scouts are seeing right now.

"I've spent time with him the last couple of weeks," Harper said. "He's a good kid who works hard and loves the game. At times when he doesn't do well, he feels a little embarrassed, and his body language might portray some of the things they are saying. That's not him at all."

Soler had a rocky year at Class A Daytona. Days into the 2013 season, he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with a bat after being upset at personal comments directed his way. Not long after his return, he was benched for not hustling. Then his season ended in June because of a stress fracture in his left foot, but he put up some decent numbers with a .281 batting average and eight home runs in 210 at-bats.

After finally getting healthy for the fall league -- he leads the team in at-bats -- he has left for several days. It has been stop and start all year, and that has affected him.

"He's not the player I saw in spring training," one scout said. "I know he was hurt, but he just looks different."

The Arizona Fall League attracts many scouts, as teams send their top prospects for six more weeks of baseball. And while the consensus has been positive for other Cubs prospects such as Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, Soler has left question marks in the minds of the scouts. Those three, along with Javier Baez, are the main cornerstones in the system for the Cubs' rebuilding plan. Soler has had the roughest go of the four. Harper chalks it up to the lack of playing time.

"We need to get him as many at-bats as we can," he said. "He'll get it back."

But first he has to come back. And start over again.

Cubs prospects dominate in AFL

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
6:55
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs prospects wasted no time in creating a buzz at the Arizona Fall League on Wednesday.

Playing for the Mesa Solar Sox on just the league’s second day of games, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Wes Darvill and Kris Bryant combined for eight hits, three home runs and 11 RBIs in a 13-3 victory over the Glendale Dogs.

Almora had four hits, including a lead-off home run. Bryant also had a first-inning home run, while Darvill went deep in the eighth after taking over at third base for Bryant.

Bryant was a first-round pick in the June draft, while Almora was the Cubs' top pick in 2012. Soler was signed after defecting from Cuba in 2012, and Darvill was a fifth-round pick in 2009.

None of those Cubs are even the team’s top prospect. Shortstop Javier Baez was scheduled to play in the Fall League but opted out, citing exhaustion after his minor league season saw him dominate Single-A and Double-A.

Soler and Almora are getting their first game action after ending their seasons injured. Bryant led all college players with 31 home runs last year, while Darvill took Baez’s place on the fall roster. None of the prospects is on pace to make the Cubs out of spring training in 2014, but several could make it to the big leagues before the season is over.

Bryant doesn't let up in AFL debut

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
11:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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If the Chicago Cubs want to woo Joe Girardi or another potential manager for their opening in the dugout, they may want to take him to the Arizona Fall League which began on Tuesday.

After all, that's where some of the Cubs' future will be playing for the next six weeks and the new skipper might want to take a look at a few players who will help decide his future success as manager.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIKris Bryant had three hits and two RBIs in his Arizona Fall League debut on Tuesday.
Outfielder Jorge Soler and third baseman Kris Bryant started for the Mesa Solar Sox against the Glendale Desert Dogs while three Cubs pitchers took the mound in an 8-8 game that was halted after 11 innings per Arizona Fall League rules.

Soler, coming off an injury that ended his minor league season prematurely, went 1 for 6, batting third in the lineup. Bryant picked up where he left off in his first few months as a professional, going 3 for 6 with two RBIs. Outfielder Albert Almora didn't get in the game but pitcher Matt Loosen did, giving up two runs in two innings. Lendy Castillo gave up three in his inning of work while Armando Rivera struck out the side pitching the eighth inning.

The timetable for the pitchers to climb the minor league ladder and make it to the major leagues is much fuzzier than the hitters. First-round picks Almora and Bryant along with $30 million man Soler are on a path that could get them to Wrigley Field within the next season or two. Phenom Javier Baez chose not to play in the Fall League after a monster minor league season but should be the first to be called up if his Triple-A season goes well in 2014.

The best case scenario has Baez in Chicago mid-season with Soler and Bryant possible September call-ups. Almora needs at least another full year before even being considered. But those are the best-case scenarios. Soler missed much of 2013 with injuries and needs as much playing time as he can get.

Bryant, on the other hand, might be fast-tracked. The moment he put on a Cubs uniform -- after being drafted second overall in June -- he started to hit. Bryant went from working in Mesa to games with the Boise Hawks and then to Daytona, helping the Cubs' Single-A affiliate to a minor league championship. The Cubs will be careful with him but Bryant has already proven to be a hot prospect after turning in the best year at the plate of any collegian last spring.

Like Soler, Almora can use the extra at-bats as well due to an injury-plagued 2013 campaign so the Fall League will allow those Cubs hitters to make up for some lost time. It will also give Cubs brass a chance to see them up close without the distraction of the major league season going on.

Even without Baez in Arizona, the Cubs have some of their top names there trying to take the next steps of their careers even if they don't know who their manager will be. That should be resolved shortly as the Cubs prepare for Girardi's decision.

In the meantime, the business of getting better one player at a time resumes in Arizona with the Cubs patiently awaiting the arrival of their elite talent.

Former No. 1 pick Vitters moves to the OF

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
9:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Former No. 1 Chicago Cubs draft pick Josh Vitters will move to left field, team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday.

Vitters was drafted No. 3 overall in 2007 as a third baseman, but his progress has been slowed by injuries and ineffectiveness.

"He's going to come to spring training ready to re-establish himself," Epstein said.

The Cubs drafted and traded for two third-base prospects this summer, forcing a move to the outfield for Vitters. He was a minor league call-up last season but struggled to a .121 batting average and .193 on-base percentage in 109 plate appearances. He had a leg injury in spring training this season, putting him behind. He had back and rib problems as well.

"He has a program in place that we've signed off on that does not include winter ball," Epstein said. "It involves making himself a more complete baseball player. Working on the mental side of the game. He's really excited about it."

Epstein wasn't as certain about another first-round pick, Brett Jackson. He also was slowed by injuries and struggled during his time in the majors last season. This year he was demoted to Double-A.

"Still to be determined," Epstein said of Jackson's immediate future. "He may end up taking the same path."

Epstein said injured prospects Jorge Soler (foot) and Albert Almora (groin) are on pace to be healthy for the start of the Arizona Fall League.

Season review: Cubs prospects

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
9:00
AM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
ESPNChicago.com
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Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert AlmoraUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIThe Cubs have plenty of promising position player talent in the minors with Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
With four players arguably among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, the future looks bright for the Chicago Cubs.

Of course, it was just a decade ago that names like Mark Prior, Angel Guzman and Juan Cruz littered top-100 lists. But as the saying goes, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, so it's likely a good thing the current Cubs system is heavy in high-ceiling offensive talent. They don't possess an elite, Archie Bradley-like arm, but through bulk-drafting and some shrewd trades, the Cubs have put together a solid group of pitchers, many of whom project as solid mid-rotation candidates or slightly better.

The fact is, if the topic of the Cubs system is brought up in front of opposing talent evaluators, one will quite often find oneself in a long conversation. Long gone are the days of people wondering who, beyond one or two players, has any real future impact in the Cubs system. In fact, Brett Jackson, who not so long ago sat atop the Cubs' prospect rankings, would find himself among the back half of a Cubs top 10, even if he were still at his peak prospect value.

A few things to remember here: This is not a top-10 list or even a ranking of any sort. It's just a quick glimpse at some players who range from superstar potential to role player. Trying to judge a minor league player on his statistics is a highly imperfect way of analyzing prospects. Minor league stats never tell the whole story. That's why, as always, much of the information provided here is gathered from discussions with scouts and front office members from around the league.

Javier Baez

Position: SS Age: 20 Highest level in 2013: Double-A Tennessee

It's not often that broaching the topic of what a prospect could do at the major league level if everything goes right leads scouts to giggle with excitement, but that's what Baez's bat does to people. After struggling early at High-A Daytona, Baez quickly turned things around and forced a promotion by posting an .873 OPS with 17 home runs in 76 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (FSL), then went on to terrorize opposing team's pitchers at Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeJavier Baez
AP Photo/Morry GashJavier Baez's power is impressive but his defense is still a work in progress.
Baez has easy 70 power (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and those who are bullish on him can squint and see a future 70 hit tool (though a 55-60 rating seems to be the industry consensus). Throw in his knack for coming up big late in close games and it's easy to see why the list is short of minor leaguers who have a higher ceiling with the bat.

In 54 games at Double-A, Baez's elite bat speed continued to wow scouts, while delivering numbers to do the same. With a .294/.346/.638 line and 20 home runs and 15 doubles, it's clear why many believe Baez will be ready to send fastballs over the ivy at Wrigley Field at some point in 2014.

That's not to say that Baez is without his warts. Baez struck out 147 times with only 40 walks and committed 44 errors at two levels this season. Baez is an aggressive player who believes he can hit any pitch when he's at the plate and make any play while on defense. The defensive issues have nothing to do with fundamentals, but reining in his at times out-of-control play would do a lot in helping him reduce the errors.

As far as his aggressiveness at the plate, Baez has definitely taken some strides in 2013. The slider breaking low and away from him was quite often a bugaboo, but he's learning to stay away from the offering, forcing pitchers to come back over the plate and often making them pay for that decision. Baez also had numerous games in August in which he'd see 25 or more pitches in only four or five at-bats. Not only does seeing so many pitches wear down the opposition with a rising pitch count, but it increases the likelihood that Baez will see a pitch more to his liking. When that happens, good things usually follow.

Early in his career, there were questions about Baez's makeup, but those have quickly faded away and proven to be a non-issue. When watching Baez play, effort is never a question. In fact it's his intensity that sometimes gets the best of him.

What we saw from Baez this season was a big step forward. He still has work to do before the questions subside, but Baez has passed the biggest test a player will face at the minor league level by having a monster season at Double-A. Now it's just a matter of time before he has the opportunity to show what he can do at the big-league level.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
2 3.05 16 20
OTHER LEADERS
BAE. Bonifacio .366
HRW. Castillo 3
RBIS. Castro 9
RE. Bonifacio 12
OPSA. Rizzo .948
ERAJ. Samardzija 1.29
SOJ. Samardzija 22