Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler
MESA, Ariz. -- The presence Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler provides in the Chicago Cubs' spring training locker room is all about the visuals. He’s a man of few words -- in Spanish or English -- but his size stands out among any athletes.
“He’s real big,” was the first observation new manager Joe Maddon made of Soler on Day 1 of camp.
He has a few more now.
“I liked his feet,” Maddon said after watching Soler in defensive drills recently. “His arm is really good.”
Cubs fans got a taste of Soler last season and they must have liked what they saw -- and not just in his 6-4, 215-pound frame. Make that 242 pounds, now. Soler put on muscle this offseason on an already freakishly athletic body. You can see it in his arms.
“I feel real good,” Soler said Monday through staff assistant/translator Franklin Font. “I feel great.”
“I do like to win in spring training,” Maddon said Sunday after Day 3 of workouts for pitchers and catchers. “My message to the group when they show up (Wednesday) is I really want us to play the game the same whether it’s March 15 or July 15 or October 15. When you build that mindset, when it gets to the end of the season in a playoff situation, you don’t change your game. I think that’s the trap groups fall into. ‘I have to try harder or I have to do more. I have to step up.’ I really do not like the phrase ‘step up.’ That insinuates you haven’t been trying prior to that.”
The Cubs will play 31 Cactus League games beginning on March 5.
“I think he’ll be able to play third,” ESPN.com prospect expert Keith Law said. “He’s a better athlete than people give him credit for. He was an adequate high school shortstop. He can handle third. He’s never going to be Adrian Beltre but you never need him to be.”
Law released his Top 100 player rankings one day after declaring the Cubs have the best farm system in the game, in part, because of Bryant. Other top 100 prospects employed by the Cubs include Addison Russell who ranks No. 4 on the list, while outfielder Jorge Soler comes in at No. 14. First round pick of 2014, Kyle Schwarber, ranks No. 90 in his first appearance on the list. Law isn’t convinced Schwarber will be a major league catcher, though he agrees with the strategy of trying him there.
“If I was them I would have done the exact same thing, but I think there’s a 10 percent chance he catches in the majors,” Law said.
Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara. But this spring it won’t be about fawning over the long home runs, it will be about them working the count and seeing what’s changed since last year. We can never make full assessments on spring games, but we can certainly get an idea if they “look” different. Also, after watching Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras completely blow up these past two springs, I won’t ignore a particular pitcher that struggles in a similar manner. It’s not just the struggles, but how they struggle. It was obvious to me that neither of those pitchers was ready for prime time come April. If someone else has that feel to his performances, then it’s worth noting.
Rogers: Not as many as you might think! What I found funny was the headlines about Bryant that the Luis Valbuena trade generated. Like he was the reason Bryant was stuck in the minors. I think people get it. And I think most people aren’t blaming the Cubs. The system says two weeks in the minors saves the Cubs a whole year.
@ESPNChiCubs what % of these questions will be about the odds of Bryant starting the season on the big league roster?— Will (@IAmWillMarsh) January 27, 2015
Rogers: You are correct. If they wait until the Super 2 date, then they might have a mutiny on their hands.
#Cubschat The Super2 date in June only has to do with arbitration, right? So we'd only have to wait until 4/17 ish to save a FA year for KB?— B Allen (@badger0000) January 20, 2015
Jon Lester and Shields? Why not Scherzer and David Robertson and the top position players as well? Every team has a budget and a long-term plan, and I can understand not committing to two pitchers in the same offseason, especially when you’re still a year or so away. Plus, Shields isn’t worth it, in my opinion.
Rogers: I’d love to be out in front of a Neil Ramirez All-Star bid. They take middle guys nowadays, and he’s pretty darn good. If he picks up where he left off after his breakout year, then why not? I also would not put anything past Kris Bryant if he comes up early enough. I’m not going to predict it, but it wouldn’t shock me. If/when he struggles, I just think his adjustment period will be a lot shorter than most. So there’s a couple options, but neither is a favorite to be there.
Who could u see making an all star team in 2015 not named Arrietta Castro Rizzo or Lester #cubschat— mrpostman24501 (@MrPostman24501) January 27, 2015
“He’s got some of the best raw ingredients to work with in all of major league baseball,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. “His approach and some mechanical things need to be tweaked. He’s well aware of that.
“In the long term, he’s going to be someone you want to bet on.”
The Cubs hope calling up Baez when they did this season will benefit him next year. Epstein cited Anthony Rizzo as a player who needed time to figure things out. Baez is still just 21.
“Javy is extraordinarily talented and raw at the same time,” Epstein said. “Some players can make those adjustments in-season. More often than not, they occur over the winter.”
Epstein addressed several on-field issues as the Cubs turn the page to next season. While Baez is slated to play second, the front office doesn’t plan to move its three-time All-Star, Starlin Castro, off shortstop anytime soon.
“We’re making our plans for 2015 with him at the shortstop position,” Epstein said. “Young players are really versatile and really athletic and have a chance to move around the diamond. Increased versatility is something we’re going to stress for all of our young players. I think that’s the way the game is going.”
It means prospect Addison Russell, for example, will get some looks at second and third base next spring while other players, such as Kris Bryant and Mike Olt, will see time in the outfield. Hitting is at a premium in baseball these days, and the Cubs want to fortify themselves around the diamond in case of injury. The object will be to replace a player with another potent hitter, not just the one guy who can play that particular position.
The Cubs ended the season with three potential 2015 starters securing spots in the outfield. Jorge Soler will undoubtedly be in right field next year, while the Cubs liked how Arismendy Alcantara took to center. The big surprise came in the form of left fielder Chris Coghlan. He got on base more than 35 percent of the time and played better on defense as the season wore on.
“He’s certainly going to have an opportunity to have a meaningful role again in 2015,” Epstein said. “Just because we have three guys that can form an opening day outfield doesn’t mean we’re content.”
The Cubs say they will look to add, but that could come in the form of a bench player, who would most likely be a veteran. Another on-base type of player wouldn’t hurt either.
The Cubs are happy with their bullpen and don’t plan to make many changes, though they could always sign an arm for depth, given that the volatility of relief pitchers from one season to the next is well documented.
There’s been season-long speculation that relievers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez could return to starting roles, but Epstein said they are staying where they are: in the pen.
“Right now, the plans are to keep them in the bullpen,” Epstein said. “I think we can be selective when it comes to adding bullpen talent.”
One thing is for sure: Hector Rondon is the incumbent closer after a huge season as a first-time man in the ninth inning. He had 29 saves in 33 opportunities.
“What a success story,” Epstein said. “[He] shows no ill effects to the ninth inning. He knows how good his stuff is. He’s been as good as you could possibly hope.”
Starting pitching is still a work in progress. The Cubs have two mainstays right now, in Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Travis Wood should be given a chance to rebound from a poor season, and the Cubs have said they’ll look outside the organization for at least one more starter. In-house candidates Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Eric Jokisch and Tsuyoshi Wada are all possibilities as well.
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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."
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.
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.
“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."
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).
“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
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."
"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.
“He is strong.”
“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.
“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.”
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
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Jorge Soler, 22, batting fifth and playing right field against the Reds, was just trying to keep his emotions under control.
It took Jorge Soler only four pitches to tally his first career home run.
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.”