Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler

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.

Call-ups affected by playoff race

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs haven't decided who they will call up from Triple-A Iowa or when as the calendar inches towards September. The playoff race in the minors will have an effect on those decisions.

"In a situation where we're not in a pennant race, they've worked hard down there. We don’t want to raid them and leave them with nothing," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. "That will be a consideration. If your big-league club is in the pennant race that's the only consideration, but it’s a little different in this situation."

The Iowa Cubs had a one-game lead in the Pacific Coast League American North Division heading into play on Wednesday evening. Their regular season ends on Sept. 1 and the playoffs would not be complete until mid-September allowing for few major league games for call-ups if Iowa went all the way.

"Pretty big discussion we're having right now," Hoyer said.

Hoyer indicated nothing has changed for slugging third baseman Kris Bryant. He won't be making it to Wrigley Field this season. But fans can still expect outfielder Jorge Soler to debut, it's just a matter of when. Either way, the Cubs will call up a few pitchers come September to bolster their staff.

The Cubs are also debating who will play in the Arizona Fall League this October and November. Soler and top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards are both candidates after missing time this year because of injuries.

Why (likely) call up Soler and not Bryant ?

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
5:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Kris BryantAP Photo/Rick ScuteriKris Bryant has torn up the minor leagues, but don't expect to see him at Wrigley Field this season.
CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein didn’t break news Friday in reiterating that star prospect Kris Bryant probably won’t make it to the big leagues this season like former teammates Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara have.

Epstein has been saying that since he promoted Bryant to Triple-A Iowa way back in June. What rings hollow is his reasoning – especially compared with Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, who more than likely will make it to Wrigley Field before year’s end.

“It’s not business,” Epstein said. “In your first full professional season there is enough that you have to deal with without making your big league debut. That’s the proper thing for his development.”

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP PhotoThe explanation behind potentially bringing up Jorge Soler and keeping Kris Bryant down doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Who can say Epstein is right or wrong, but he’s been preaching the “first full professional year” thing for a while and it simply seems like something random to grasp onto. Bryant played half a season with the Cubs last summer, then the fall league, and he quickly advanced through the minors this year. Is it really that big of a deal it’s technically his first full year?

“In his first full pro season, not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things," Epstein said, "but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost.”

Can’t the opposite be true? Isn’t being out of a pennant race as good a time as any to bring a player up? In fact, that seems to be the better time. There’s less pressure. And with so many young players already in the big leagues Bryant could ease into it as much as anyone, considering he would be the last of the group this season. And as far as extraordinary things, leading Double-A in all three Triple Crown categories, at the time of his promotion, and totaling 37 home runs and a composite .342 batting average seems pretty special.

“I think people forget because he was drafted just 14 months ago,” Epstein said.

The biggest indictment of this logic comes in the strategy surrounding Soler, who is the same age as Bryant. The Cubs are basically saying Bryant is too green to come up while there is no such issue with Soler, who has had 45 at-bats at Triple-A, though he has showed some great plate discipline. He has eight walks and just 10 strikeouts going into Friday’s games.

“That’s shown up more consistently now,” Epstein said. “Ever since he came off the disabled list the second time he’s had consistent, high-quality at-bats. He’s not swinging at chase pitches. He’s focused throughout the at-bat. That’s not something we taught him, that’s something he showed up with.”

Soler is finally healthy and performing as projected. But because of those injuries – to his legs this year and last – he’s been limited to 134 games played, 547 plate appearances and 479 at-bats as a professional. Bryant has appeared in 151 games while amassing 639 plate appearances and 540 at-bats going into Friday's action. Just because one has been in the system longer than the other, he’s more ready?

The Cubs admitted long ago that Soler needed reps after defecting from Cuba in 2011 while establishing residency in Haiti before making it to the states and eventually signing a nine year, $30 million deal with the Cubs. Meanwhile, Bryant hasn’t stopped playing baseball – other than to sign his contract last summer. And more important than any of this is the fact that Epstein knows Bryant can mentally handle any ups and downs or rigors of coming up in his first full professional year. He’s a hitting machine who takes care of himself and would have no problem adjusting to the big leagues, even though he started the year at Double-A Tennessee.

One item that does make sense is the 40-man roster issue. The Cubs have some expendable players – such as Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson – who can be removed. But adding Bryant now would give the Cubs a little less flexibility in the offseason. In other words, they may want to use those expendable spots to sign or trade for players this winter without Bryant clogging one spot up. He won’t need to be added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft either. It may not be an issue considering the Cubs have several other players besides Vitters and Jackson who could be removed, opening up enough spots for Bryant and other additions.

As much as Epstein can’t admit it, business is probably getting in the way of baseball. Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, and by bringing him up now he’ll be moving toward being a free agent after the 2020 season due to fulfilling service-time requirements. By waiting until mid-April or later next season, Bryant wouldn't become a free agent until after 2021. Some might think it’s a moot point since the Cubs will undoubtedly lock him up to a long-term contract well before then as they have with other stars. But it doesn’t change the eventual negotiating tactic by Bryant and Boras. Simply put, the sooner a player can become a free agent the more he can make, no matter when he signs.

The bottom line is the Cubs aren’t wrong in using this strategy. Bryant won’t be immensely harmed – if at all – by waiting until early next season to be brought up, but making it sound like a developmental issue just doesn’t seem right.

“His defense, to continuing to work on his approach on certain parts of the strike zone,” Epstein said of what Bryant needs to do.

So a .260 hitter (Baez) with 130 strikeouts to 34 walks gets promoted, but a .342 guy with currently the exact same amount of strikeouts but with 70 walks and 14 more home runs won’t be? And the player (Soler) with less professional experience will be as well.

But remember, a matter of a few months isn’t going to make or break the Cubs or Bryant. This is simply about making sense of something that seemingly doesn’t.

Albert Almora, Jorge Soler promoted

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:12
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Cubs promoted two of their top prospects on Tuesday, with 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora heading to Double-A Tennessee while Cuban slugger Jorge Soler will move up to Triple-A Iowa.

Almora had been red hot for Single-A Daytona since overcoming early-season struggles. He has 14 hits in his last seven games, which included hitting for the cycle last week. His batting average is up to .280, though he only has 12 walks all year.



Soler has been dealing with hamstring problems in both his legs for most of this season, but since getting healthy he also has been hot. He was hitting .405 in 84 at-bats in Double-A with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in just 28 games this season. He was hitting .459 since his return from rehab, with six of his seven home runs coming over the past 14 games.

Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million deal in 2012 but has been slowed by foot and leg injuries until recently.

Hold the ovation for Cubs on lauded system

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
11:59
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Kris BryantDennis Hubbard/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant now tops Keith Law's prospect rankings, one of three Cubs in his top 10.
CHICAGO – The midseason prospect rankings by ESPN.com's Keith Law were released on Thursday and the Chicago Cubs have three of the top eight prospects in the game, including the top-ranked player in third baseman Kris Bryant.

Bryant went from No. 15 in the preseason to No. 1 thanks to a 31-homer, 81-RBI first half. Joining him in the top 10 are Double-A newcomer Addison Russell (No. 4), acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and Triple-A shortstop Javier Baez (No. 8). Also in the top 50 is outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 28). Single-A centerfielder Albert Almora dropped out of the top 50 after a slow start to 2014.

While Bryant, 22, has torn up minor league pitching this season, the Cubs don't believe he'll make it to the big leagues this year.

[+] EnlargeAddison Russell
AP Photo/Morry GashShortstop Addison Russell is fourth on Keith Law's prospect rankings.
"I don't foresee a scenario where he would be up this year," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said after Bryant was promoted to Triple-A. "I don't think it's the right thing to do in someone's first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances, both in terms of the player and what's going on with the big league team."

Not surprisingly, Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, didn't necessarily agree with that assessment.

"Why not?" Boras told the Chicago Tribune over the All-Star break. "Bring him up in September, let him get his feet wet, get that out of the way, and let him go hit."

It's a nice thought, but it would mean Bryant would be eligible for free agency sooner than if he stayed in the minors until the middle of April next year. With Boras as his agent it might be the prudent thing to do. If Bryant comes up in September and then starts 2015 with the Cubs he'll be a free agent after 2020. If the Cubs wait a couple weeks into next April before calling him up -- due to service time rules -- he wouldn't be a free agent until after 2021. In this case that difference could entail a lot of money. It's exactly how the Houston Astros dealt with prized outfielder prospect George Springer earlier this season.

In the meantime the Cubs will have to settle for being one of the top farm systems in the game. Their scouting of both the amateur players they drafted and young, professional players they've acquired via trades is admirable, at least on paper. The development of those players is seemingly going well. The current front office didn't sign Arismendy Alcantara or draft Baez, for example, but they are overseeing their final stages of development. So far so good, not withstanding Baez's rough first half.

But the Cubs should only be getting a nice golf clap for their rebuilt farm system, not necessarily a standing ovation just yet. After all, how difficult is it to draft high every year and get talent? Or trade pitchers such as Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and receive young talent in return? Of course, you don't just pick those prospects out of a hat, but when your strategy is to tank and sell, sell, sell, it's a little easier than navigating through a normal season.

The Cubs will get that standing ovation when the prospects start to perform at the major league level. One has shown promise -- Alcantara made the most of his two-day tryout last week and is staying with the Cubs for now. The good news is, the days of simply acquiring young talent is coming to an end. Epstein said as much right after dealing Samardzija when he expressed hope that 2014 would be the last year the Cubs were obvious sellers.

Even though no one officially has ranked the Cubs' farm system the best in baseball just yet, they're in the team photo. How much higher can they go and what's the point if it doesn't start to translate at the major league level? It might not be Bryant's time just yet but between starting pitchers and some other prospects -- perhaps Baez -- the Cubs should be moving their top farm players to the majors.

The best news for fans might come when the Cubs' farm system takes a fall in the rankings because the good prospects are actually playing in the majors. That's when the job of rebuilding will be complete. Winning would be next.

Baez homers, prospects have their day

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
11:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs' prospects made noise all over the country on Sunday as Triple-A Iowa shortstop Javier Baez led the way with a two-run home run in the Futures Game in Minnesota where the major league All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday.

Baez went deep in the sixth inning, but Texas Rangers Double-A prospect Joey Gallo won MVP honors with his home run to help the U.S team to a 3-2 win over the World squad. Gallo is tied for the minor-league lead in home runs (31) with Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant went 0-for-3 in the Futures Game with two strikeouts.

Baez and Bryant are off until their Iowa Cubs season resumes after the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday. Bryant already played in the Double-A All-Star game last month. Baez didn't make the team after a slow start to his season. He has picked up the pace in recent weeks finishing the first half on a 10-game hitting streak, though he has exactly 10 hits in those 10 games. Baez is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs for the season.

Soler breaks out
Double-A outfielder Jorge Soler is finally healthy and on a rampage since returning to Tennessee's lineup following a long rehab for hamstring issues. He was 3-for-5 with two home runs Sunday, and in seven games since returning he's 12-for-23 (.521) with five home runs. If Soler can stay healthy, he'll probably finish the year in Double-A with a chance to make it to Triple-A at the start of next season. Health is his main concern right now.

Kane County
Single-A Kane County continued a monstrous season by sweeping a doubleheader over Beloit on Sunday and improving to 62-31. This year's first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber, was 3-for-6 on the day raising his batting average to .380. Highly regarded starter Jen-Ho Tseng threw a complete game (seven innings) to improve to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.74. He struck seven without giving up a walk.

Alcantara homers
And just to put the icing on the cake, newly recalled Cubs infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara hit his first major league home run in the Cubs' 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. Alcantara has five extra-base hits in five games for the Cubs since being promoted from Triple-A on Wednesday. Alcantara will stay with the Cubs through the week missing the Triple-A All-Star game.

Russell debuts; Soler, Bryant, Baez homer

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
8:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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As former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija was making his debut for the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, so was the key player the Cubs got in return in the weekend trade for the All-Star right-hander.

Addison Russell went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts for Double-A Tennessee, while Cuban slugger Jorge Soler returned from a hamstring injury to belt a home run in the Smokies' 9-1 victory over Birmingham.

Batting third and playing shortstop, the 20-year-old Russell came to the plate several times with men on base but failed to drive any in. He was acquired Friday night along with pitcher Dan Straily and minor league outfielder Bill McKinney in exchange for Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel.

Soler followed Russell in the order, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs, including his first home run of the season in the sixth inning. Soler has been limited to eight games this season, spending most of the spring and summer in Arizona rehabbing two different hamstring injuries.

At Triple-A Iowa, meanwhile, both Kris Bryant and Javier Baez went deep in the Iowa Cubs' 5-4 victory over Oklahoma City. Bryant hit his eighth home run at Triple-A and 30th overall in the minors this season one day after being named the Cubs' minor league player of the month for June. Baez, who has picked up his game again since Bryant's arrival, went deep for the 13th time this season. Manny Ramirez also went 2-for-4 in the game.

Pitcher Kyle Hendricks was pulled from that game after two innings in anticipation of his major league debut later this week. The Cubs have already announced that lefty Tsuyoshi Wada will start Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds as the Cubs look to fill the rotation spots vacated by Samardzija and Hammel.

Righty Dallas Beeler made his major league debut last week, which means that, in less than two weeks, the Cubs will have seen three pitchers make their first starts in the bigs.

Cubs attempt to 're-program' Soler

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
3:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- After hamstring issues in both his legs forced Chicago Cubs prospect Jorge Soler to miss much of this season, the team gave him a "full body assessment," in order to prevent a chronic situation, according to team president Theo Epstein.

"We discovered there may be some ways to sort of re-program his posture and muscle distribution on his body posterior and anterior to (change) the way his feet work and hit the ground," Epstein said on Friday. "There are some small adjustments we can make to prevent it from happening again and becoming a chronic thing."

Soler has been limited to 10 games at Double-A Tennessee after injuring one hamstring at the end of spring training and then another with the Smokies. He's been rehabbing in Arizona ever since.

"If it continues to go well it won't be long before he's back in Tennessee," Epstein said.

Epstein said there are no "soft tissue" issues with Soler and they're hoping this new approach will keep him healthy. But he admits there are no guarantees.

"We're trying to get ahead of (it)," Epstein said. "His balance and posture could be better, and we hope our guys have gotten to the bottom of it."

Soler signed nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012 but has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons. Last year he missed time due to a foot problem while this year it's been his hamstrings. He has 13 hits, one home run and 11 RBIs in 34 at-bats this season.

Cubs' choice will have spotlight on him

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
9:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – It won’t matter who the Chicago Cubs choose as the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday evening’s amateur draft. Whomever it is, he’ll immediately be part of the Cubs' rebuilding program –- and eventually asked to help end a long World Series drought. That's why the Cubs are looking for talent and character. They know the spotlight will shine on their player, even if their major league team isn’t deserving of it right now.

“One of the things we focus on a ton is the makeup and which guys can handle [reporters] and which guys can handle the pressure,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday on the eve of the draft. “Coming from Boston, we learned pretty quickly that some guys are going to handle that scrutiny and other guys are better served to be in a smaller market.”

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe front office seemingly hit a home run when they chose third baseman Kris Bryant at No. 2 last June.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980 but never had the fanfare that goes with being a top choice today.

“I was actually at school, in class [when drafted],” Renteria said. “You dream about playing professional baseball, and when that opportunity presents itself, it’s a big day.”

And then, immediately, the hype starts -- for any top pick, but especially for the Cubs'. That’s why the combination of talent and maturity is so important. The front office seemingly hit a home run in this regard when they chose third baseman Kris Bryant at No. 2 last June. He has the makeup and the ability. Can they find the same in Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto? Or will one of the top pitchers in the draft fall to them at No. 4? Or will they take another top hitter, high school star Alex Jackson?

As of Wednesday night, there was a lot of intrigue in this year’s draft and the Cubs were still talking about a half dozen names, according to Hoyer. He was asked if he knew how things would go ahead of the Cubs, with the White Sox at No. 3, the Miami Marlins at No. 2 and the Houston Astros at No.1.

“Much less than almost any other year,” Hoyer said of his advance knowledge. “We had a three-hour debate, kind of walking through guys, and we’ll probably have one more lengthy discussion.”

Hoyer admitted that a team's circumstances makes a difference in any draft. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuilding process, so there’s plenty of need. But soon they hope to turn the corner with a stack of infielders and relievers ready or near major league ready. Outfielders, left-handed bats and starting pitching would fill gaps in the Cubs' system.

“You are taking the best talent,” Hoyer said. “You’re also trying to figure out how the pieces fit together. At some point, you have to think about what you currently have and your timing, to a certain extent.”

The Cubs' timing has infielders such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara nearing the completion of their minor league careers, or at least nearing the final phases. But with Jorge Soler sidelined with injuries and Albert Almora still stuck in Class A, the Cubs are thin in the outfield. And with likely trades of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, they’ll be thin on the mound too. Knowing they still need much to contend, they won’t say no to anyone –- high schooler or collegian. This is about getting another impact player wherever they can find one.

“There’s not enough talent out there to say you stay away from one thing or only go toward another,” Hoyer said. “In general, teams that go too dogmatic make mistakes, and so we try and evaluate the talent and have an open mind on different things.”

Soler still rehabbing in Arizona

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
7:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs prospect Jorge Soler continues to rehab a sore hamstring in extended spring training in Arizona and his timetable to return to Double-A is undetermined.

"He's hitting in the cage and off the tee," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. "We'll try to push that progression forward. We're trying to avoid any kind of re-injury. That's why [we've] continued to taking this kind of conservatively."

Soler has played in only seven games for the Tennessee Smokies -- he has seven doubles in them -- after being injured at the end of spring training. In fact, he has hurt both his hamstrings this season, slowing his progress. He also missed time last year because of foot problems. Hoyer was asked if he was worried about his $30 million investment.

"Not big picture when it comes to him being injury prone," he said. "But I think the concern is losing at-bats. At some point you need to play and go out there and face pitching. It's a big development time to miss."

Soler is part of the "core four" of prospects, which include Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. Only Bryant is tearing up the competition as the Cubs get ready to add another high-profile player with the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday's amateur draft.

For now, Soler will get his swings in the batting cages in Mesa and he may even run across Manny Ramirez, who reported there recently as a player-coach. Hoyer says he thinks Ramirez can only help.

"Hopefully they'll come in contact with each other," Hoyer said.

Minors update: Arms showing promise

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
11:23
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs might wait until later in the summer to bring up any of their top hitting prospects from the minors, but that doesn't mean a pitcher or two couldn't make an appearance at Wrigley Field sooner than that.

[+] EnlargeKyle Hendricks
AP Photo/Morry GashKyle Hendricks has recovered from a shaky first start with three straight victories at Triple-A Iowa.
It's common to see a hurler come up for a start because of an injury or heavy workload on the major league staff and then sometimes head right back to the minors. Best case is he sticks around for a little while. When Jake Arrieta completes his rehab assignment, Carlos Villanueva will return to the bullpen. It also means the Cubs could dip down into the minors if they need a spot start instead of trying to stretch Villanueva out again in the future.

In the first month of the season, it's the Cubs' pitching prospects who have impressed. Here's a look at what's happening down on the farm:

Triple-A Iowa starter Kyle Hendricks arguably threw his best game of April on Monday night when he beat Round Rock (Texas) and former Cub Scott Baker. Hendricks improved to 3-1, giving up just two hits and two walks in six innings, striking out six. His ERA is 3.65 after winning his third straight start following a shaky opening day. That coincides with Hendricks' spring training where he struggled early but finished strong. And it's consistent with his scouting reports, as well: He's a quick learner.

The most impressive starter at Iowa so far is Tsuyoshi Wada. He leads the Pacific Coast League with a 0.84 ERA and a 0.56 WHIP, having giving up just 12 hits/walks in 21 innings on the mound. Unlike Hendricks, Wada did not look good in the spring, but as a lefty, he could be used in a very specific situation if the Cubs need him. It's early, but Wada is off to a nice start after a rough time in Arizona in March.

Lefty Eric Jokisch throws Tuesday afternoon. In two of three starts this season, he's given up zero earned runs, but he got hit hard in the other one, as has Chris Rusin so far this month. His ERA is 6.32 after giving up four runs in six innings over the weekend. Rusin did have one decent relief appearance for the Cubs in St. Louis recently.

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At Double-A Tennessee, top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards is coming along nicely. He earned his first win Sunday, and opposing hitters have a .187 batting average against him in four starts. He's walked eight and struck out 20 in 20 innings. Ivan Pineyro, acquired for Scott Hairston last season, has a 1.15 ERA after three starts and has looked as good as he did after the trade to the Cubs last year.

At Class A Daytona, flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino earned his first save Monday night. He's given up one run in six innings. The Cubs want him in warm weather to start the season, and he could make a jump to the big leagues later, as well. Even at Class A Kane County, there is a wave of pitchers off to good starts. Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood have been impressive in the early going.

As for the hitting prospects, some of the headlines haven't been as big as they were in the spring. Javier Baez (.152, two homers, three RBIs) is just back from an injury and had a slow first couple of weeks of the season. Jorge Soler remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. Kris Bryant (.284, 4, 10) is doing well at Double-A and might be one of the first to get a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps it up. Albert Almora (.286, 1, 7) is progressing nicely at Class A, as well.

But it's the pitchers who have stood out, and because of the nature of the game, they might be the first ones to make big league appearances. Rusin is a good example. He threw five innings in relief and then was sent right back down. Expect a cup of coffee for some of the above names as the season progresses. After all, the Cubs need all the arms they can find.

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
Archive
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.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .285
HRA. Rizzo 28
RBIA. Rizzo 67
RA. Rizzo 79
OPSA. Rizzo .882
ERAT. Wood 4.86
SOJ. Arrieta 122