Cubs: Jorge Soler
A few things to remember when reading this piece: 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.
All statistics are updated through Sunday's games.
AP Photo/Morry GashJavier Baez is batting .256 with six home runs and 19 errors at Single-A Daytona.
Position: SS Age: 20 Current level: High-A Daytona
Baez came into the season as arguably the Cubs' top prospect and among the 25 best prospects in all of the minors. When it comes to power, Baez is near the top, with only Twins prospect Miguel Sano clearly ahead of him on the list. Scouts have also begun to come around on Baez's defense at short. Despite the fact that Baez has 19 errors early on this season, the number of people who believe he can stick at the position in the big leagues continues to grow. There are those who feel that when it's all said and done, he'll be a better option at the position than current Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
However, Baez doesn't come without his issues. While a very exciting prospect, it's his aggressive, almost out-of-control style of play that is a concern. This is currently being displayed with his .256/.293/.475 line and most glaringly his 46 strikeouts and only seven walks in 174 plate appearances.
Baez has to learn how to slow the game down and develop an approach. Right now, the book on him is that a pitcher doesn't have to throw him a strike to get him out. To reach his potential, Baez must make adjustments, and the fact is that that process may take some time. The Cubs have the luxury of being able to be patient with Baez since they're not competing, and they already have an All Star-caliber player manning short on the big league roster.
The fact that Baez's early struggles were not unexpected, at 20 he's still young for the league and the Florida State League is known to be pitcher-friendly all make Baez's problems at the plate a little easier to swallow. As one AL scouting director said prior to the season, "It's OK if we see him putting up bad numbers at Daytona -- it's all part of the process." Baez's disappointing start isn't something to get riled up about, but how he reacts and adjusts to these issues in the coming months will tell us a lot about his future.
“Not everybody is going to run every single ball out at 100 percent,” Sveum said before the Cubs took on the San Diego Padres Monday night. “That’s just part of the game but you get a grip on it and hold people accountable and move on.”
Soler signed a nine-year, $30-million contract last season and was noticeable in spring training for his power and patience at the plate. But this is his second time making negative headlines at Daytona in just the first month of the season. He ran towards an opposing dugout with a bat in his hand during a game earlier this month but was stopped by teammates before causing any damage to anyone or anything. He was suspended five games for the incident.
“We have 125 minor league players, I’m sure he’s not the only player to not run a ball out,” Sveum said. “These things get escalated because of who he is and what just happened a few weeks ago too.
“You say something, get a grip on it and then you don’t see it again. You let people know they’re held accountable for everything, and everybody is the same no matter how much money you make or what.”
"If you are going to come here to Chicago, New York, L.A., any big city, you have to know it is not going to go your way all of the time," Samardzija said Thursday. "You have to be able to handle that. If you can't you aren't going to be around for too long. You can't lose your emotions like that. You have to stay under control, and if you don't, you definitely can't use a bat."
Read the entire story.
There were some mundane days, but even for a team coming off 101 losses, there were plenty of storylines, players and moments of interest. Here’s the wrap-up:
Spring record: 16-18-1
Batting average leader (min. 20 at-bats): Brian Bogusevic, .410
HR leader: Alfonso Soriano, 5
RBI leader: Dioner Navarro, 16
ERA leader (min. 10 innings): Chris Rusin, 1.93
Most impressive veteran: It was close between David DeJesus and Starlin Castro; the latter missed two weeks but never missed a beat. DeJesus gets the nod simply because he was consistently good at the plate from day one to the end. He finally went a game without a hit because he got only one at-bat on the final day. Before that he was on fire, hitting in 14 straight and batting .364 in Cactus League play overall. And many of his outs were hit as hard as his hits.
Most impressive prospect: It’s closer than you might think between Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. Baez was simply better later in camp so that’s what people remember. Asking the experts, Soler is more refined at the plate and perhaps in the field as well -- but Baez has more flair. Soler did more of his damage in batting practice before games while Baez did it in games, so we’ll give the nod to him. The instincts in both players were impressive.
Best off-field moment: When Baez’s name “came up” a little too much in meetings, as one player put it, Cubs veterans decided to pull a fast one on him by dressing up his car with a major league logo and a large bumper sticker that said “Rookie on Board.” The 2011 first-round pick took it all in stride -– and had to drive with it on his car for a day.
Best on-field moment: Baez gets the nod here as well. His four home runs on seven pitches over two days broke up the monotony of camp and created a buzz. They were also rocket shots. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Samardzija, who hit two home runs in his first four at-bats of the spring.
Best quote: This goes to Dale Sveum, when he called a back-of-the-shoulder ailment to Junior Lake a “trapeze” injury. He was trying to say “trapezoid.” He was wrong there, too.
Strangest spring moment: It didn’t occur on the field, but a massive hailstorm that also brought snow caught everyone off guard. Samardzija was pelted while putting on the 12th hole, while players’ cars were covered in the wintry mess. The fields and grass parking lots the next day were soaked.
Maybe it's foreshadowing. Or maybe it's simply a reward for a good spring training as neither player did anything to dissuade observers of their potential. As they prepared to play their final game on Monday against the San Diego Padres before heading for Class-A Daytona, both reflected on what they learned. For Baez, it was simple:
"Take pitches,” he said Monday morning.
Manager Dale Sveum has decided to give a few veterans a day off after the weekend of split-squad games with a group returning from Las Vegas Sunday night. That means Baez has a chance to add on to his hot streak, which has produced four home runs in Cactus League play plus two more on Friday against Team Japan of the World Baseball Classic.
After Monday, though, both head to the Cubs’ minor league complex at Fitch Park and Single-A Daytona -- officially for Soler and unofficially for Baez. He’s expected to start the season there as well.
Also headed to the minors is third baseman Josh Vitters, infielder Christian Villanueva and catcher Rafael Lopez.
“They are so raw they just have to play so many more baseball games before they’re ready for this kind of big league pitching every day,” Sveum said. “Soler has been impressive to where he doesn’t just go up there swinging. He has a pretty good idea. His poise in the outfield, for not playing a lot of games, it’s pretty impressive.”
Stewart has done little since suffering the injury on Feb. 21 and it could make it difficult for him to earn a spot on the roster.
"If he gets on the field too late in spring training it will be difficult to get enough at-bats to evaluate (him) when everyone else is getting their at-bats," manager Dale Sveum said.
“I’m playing every day like I belong,” Jackson said Sunday morning before the Cubs took on the San Francisco Giants. “I’m aware of what they told the media but that doesn’t deter me from playing the way I want to play and thinking that I deserve to be on this team. A lot of that is out of my hands but I’m going to do everything in my power to play the way I know I can play.”
Garza hurt his left side but says he should be OK. But for a team that has been searching for answers during, well, the past 104 years, it was an inauspicious start.
Before practice and the injury, the Cubs held a team meeting, with ownership and the entire front office present. It’s at that point the Cubs donned orange hunting gear, mocking manager Dale Sveum’s winter hunting expedition, during which he was accidentally shot, though not seriously. After the laughs subsided, Sveum had words for his 2013 team.
“The message I want to get through is accountability and work ethic and preparation, and things aren’t accepted here as much as other places sometimes,” he said. “The players have to realize how much change has gone on in the organization in one year.”
A lot of that change will be on display in spring training as new meets old.
The Cubs have a season to play very soon but at every turn in Mesa during the past week there has been a storyline looking toward the future. There’s the future of spring training (new facility opens next year), the future of Wrigley Field (hope that renovations begin soon) and, of course, the future of the on-field product. All three were addressed by owner Tom Ricketts.
“I think everyone knows from top to bottom that everyone is on the same page,” newcomer pitcher Scott Baker said after the meeting. “Everybody wants to get this organization to being one of the best, if not the best in baseball. That all starts at the top, with ownership and the front office. Everybody had the same points to make; everyone is working toward a common goal.
“Do the best you can: We’re going to have fun, but at the same time we’re working toward something special.”
As the present meets the future in spring training, it’s not difficult to envision how things might look in 2014 or 2015. Every time 20-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler picked up a bat -- even in unofficial workouts for position players -- it was a lot more interesting to watch than any current Cub. Maybe that’s because the current ones are well known, losers of 101 games last year. Or maybe because future Cubs such as Soler and Javier Baez are simply more talented than anything the Cubs have had around the organization in a while.
“I’m optimistic about what we can do now,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said this week.
Many fans are more optimistic about what Rizzo himself can than what the team can do. Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro represent the present and the future.
And to be sure, the arrival of players such as Ian Stewart and left fielder Alfonso Soriano will get their share of attention. However those storylines are either worn out (Soriano) or not very intriguing (Stewart). Why? Simply because there’s a good chance those players won’t be Cubs when the team is good enough to win something unless they shock the world this year.
Sveum said he spoke about “a lot of the positives that came out of last year.”
That must have been a short part of the meeting.
The biggest positive? It’s a year later. And the prospects are inching their way to the big leagues, while the Cubs will draft the No. 2 overall pick this June. That’s about the only advantage of a 101-loss season.
It was one thing when Soler and Baez were just new names in the organization. It’s another thing when they are viewed up close, and with other major leaguers. Soler doesn’t have to hit bombs in batting practice, but he did. And so a legend begins. But, again, that’s mostly because the 2013 storylines aren’t that compelling.
Dreaming of a productive outfield of Soler, Brett Jackson and Albert Almora, while Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Castro and Baez hold down the infield, is a better narrative for Cubs fans than anything else this spring training. The problem is that dream is a ways off and has no guarantees, but at least we have the faces and names.
Of course, who will be on the mound in the future is even less certain. Jeff Samardzija has a good chance and Edwin Jackson is signed long term, but even then there are no guarantees. And Garza needs to assure his bosses -- and a fan base -- he can be durable after last season and even after what happened on Sunday.
Which brings us back to what we do know for certain.
A new Mesa spring training facility will open next year, as well as a new Cubs training facility in the Dominican Republic. Wrigley will be renovated and the Cubs won’t ask taxpayers to pay for it. The Cubs will struggle this season, as they’ve identified only a few core players. Everyone else is either on a one-year tryout or is simply taking up space until the aforementioned prospects arrive.
Cubs president Theo Epstein recently said that once spring training begins, it’s all about 2013. It’s a nice thought, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Halm, an assistant for video and advanced scouting, beat 15 other front office and clubhouse personnel in the “play-in” round of the Chicago Cubs annual bunting tournament.
Halm will enter the main tournament, going up against 62 Cubs players and their bullpen coach in a March Madness-style event covering much of the spring. The highlight of the 16-person tournament on Saturday was the first-round matchup pitting team president Theo Epstein against general manager Jed Hoyer. Epstein won the match decisively.
“The most important match of the year was the first one,” Epstein said. “I will say Jed and I have a long history of playing pickup basketball and other sports. That one felt good.”
The loss is particularly embarrassing for Hoyer, who played college baseball at Wesleyan. Epstein was immediately ousted in Round 2 by his 25-year-old new director of baseball operations, Scott Harris.
“I hired him,” Epstein boasted after losing to him.
Halm will compete in the main tournament starting next week after position players report on Sunday. David DeJesus is the defending champion.
Who's on third?
The opening day starter in 2012, Ian Stewart, showed up to camp on Friday followed by teammate Luis Valbuena on Saturday. Valbuena, according to manager Dale Sveum, filled in nicely for Stewart last season after the latter went down with a wrist injury. Stewart signed a one-year deal this past offseason and declared himself healthy for 2013.
Sveum was asked if third base was Stewart’s job to lose.
“It’s his job to win,” Sveum shot back.
The manager hasn’t been shy to outline what Stewart has to do to keep the job: produce.
Valbuena is happy to have a roster spot and played plenty of baseball over the winter but doesn’t feel like he can relax.
“I have to play hard,” Valbuena said on Saturday. “I have to have the start they want. I feel like I’m competing right now.”
Twenty year old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler put on another show in batting practice on Saturday. This time, it was on a diamond on which a home run to left field landed in the street.
“Cars are in jeopardy over there,” Sveum joked. “I’m just anxious to see him in games and see how it all plays out To where you can start putting a picture together.”
New Number for Sveum
The Cubs manager will wear No. 4 this season, giving up his No. 33 to newcomer Carlos Villanueva. Dioner Navarro was previously No. 4 but is also switching.
“I’m not a big number guy,” Sveum said. “It [No. 4] was the first one available when I asked [equipment manager] Otis.”
Full Squad Reports
Position players are all due to report to spring training on Sunday, and Sveum says no one will be late. All are in town already.
Owner Tom Ricketts will address the team on Sunday, updating the players on renovation plans for Wrigley Field and progress on the new spring facility slated to open next year.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com
Michael O'Day/Icon SMIJorge Soler likely is ticketed for Class A ball to start the season.
"Pretty impressive batting practice for the first day out there," manager Dale Sveum said after workouts were complete. "The ball comes off his bat like you want a ball to come off a bat if you're a manager."
Soler, a Cuban defector who was signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract last year, is a physical specimen, towering over other players at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Sveum likened his swing to a "right-handed Cliff Floyd."