Commentary

Soler, Cubs promise a fun September

Hey, why wait for next year when Wrigley youth movement is on display right now?

Updated: September 2, 2014, 10:31 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Those kids you've been talking about were at Wrigley Field on Monday morning, the first day of September, and there was a special buzz in the air.

Yes, the plucky Little League finalists from Jackie Robinson West visited the Friendly Confines to share their U.S. championship experience with the promising youngsters of the last-place (but getting better!) Chicago Cubs.

Could this town be big enough for two contending teams and the White Sox?

[+] EnlargeSoler
Phil Velasquez/Getty ImagesOutfielder Jorge Soler doubled twice and scored a run Monday in his Wrigley Field debut.

I get chills just thinking about it.

In related news, the Cubs' newest kid in the spotlight, Jorge Soler -- think of him as a bigger Trey Hondras -- made his home debut and, ho hum, hit a pair of doubles in their 4-2 victory over Milwaukee.

The 22-year-old Cuban outfielder has at least one extra-base hit in each of his first five games, making him the first National Leaguer to do that since Enos Slaughter back in 1938.

That gives him a slugging percentage of "Holy Cow" through his first five games. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) is 391, which, if I understand this statistic correctly, means he's creating 291 percent more runs than the league average.

I'll speak for Cubs fans when I say that's not due to a small sample size. Soler is just that good.

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined with a pesky back injury, Soler is unofficially the second-best hitter in Chicago -- and the second-best Cuban hitter, following White Sox star Jose Abreu.

Coming up a few weeks after Javier Baez's debut, Soler is now -- excuse the pun attempt -- the Cubs' newest bright, shining star and one of a few reasons to watch this team over the season's final 28 days.

No reasonable person on either end of town expected the Cubs or White Sox to be playing meaningful games this month, but, yes, there a few reasons to pay attention to baseball during Bears season.

Now, I'm not saying you have to watch all the games, but you can follow me on Twitter. I'll let you know when the beat writers let me know when Baez and Soler are hitting.

The Cubs are letting Baez and Soler sow their royal oats this month, letting them test their promise against a host of contending teams. No, Kris Bryant isn't coming up this month, and it has nothing to do with contractual reasons or his agent, Scott Boras.

Nope, not all. It's totally because he's not ready yet ... even though he is, as former Cubs skipper Dale Sveum would say, the best player in the minor leagues, pretty much.

Waiting is not an issue on the South Side, where the Sox are expected to bring up this year's first-round draft pick, pitcher Carlos Rodon, this month.

While they stumble through a second consecutive lost season, a future rotation of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Rodon is very promising, and, like the Cubs, the White Sox don't have much salary committed to 2015. Abreu is an absolute bargain, earning less than $9 million this season and next in a backloaded contract, and outfielder Avisail Garcia is a cornerstone, not to mention a fast healer.

The Sox wisely bade farewell to failed veterans Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn in the past two weeks, with none having a spot on 2015's team.

Dunn, a first-ballot man's man, was an abject disappointment since signing as a free agent in the winter of 2010. Dunn admitted as much when he was traded to the Oakland A's on Sunday. He'll be missed in the clubhouse, but not by a dwindling, uninterested fan base that needs to see some forward progress.

[+] EnlargeJavier Baez
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJavier Baez is striking out at a high rate, but you wouldn't sense any struggles from his demeanor.

Beckham, a 2008 first-round pick, showed the danger in rushing a player to the majors. Of course, Sale shows the flip side: Some guys are too good to stay down on the farm.

Such as Soler, for instance, who got only 206 plate appearances in Double- and Triple-A this season, or 387 fewer than Bryant. Which brings us back to Monday.

I went to Wrigley on Labor Day to make sure Soler was a real person and not some 3-D hologram. After all, he looks too good on TV to be true. How many defensive ends can hit a baseball like that?

So far, Soler is 10-for-19 with four doubles and three home runs. He's struck out only four times and plays a capable outfield.

Naturally, reporters camped out Monday morning at his locker (Jeff Samardzija's old digs, right next to the showers) waiting to talk to him.

Speaking through an interpreter, Soler communicated all of what you'd expect: He's happy to be here, he'll keep working hard. He said he was a little surprised at how quickly he started but that he believes more than ever his words to Cubs president Theo Epstein when he came off the disabled list: It's 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."

While reporters talked to Soler, on the other side of the clubhouse door was Baez, who quietly dressed for the game with no media fuss.

Could the future star be yesterday's news? Not quite, though he's certainly been eclipsed until further notice.

Through 28 games, Baez is hitting .181 with seven homers, four doubles and 50 strikeouts. Ugly numbers, but not really alarming.

Baez is already Internet famous for slow starts, and the Cubs expect him to be a boom-and-bust-and-boom-again kind of player as he grows into a more mature hitter. The talent is evident -- and frightening; he just needs at-bats.

It's hard to tell if Baez is struggling with struggling. He's very even-keeled, something he has in common with the Cubs' other rookies, such as pitcher Kyle Hendricks and outfielder Arismendy Alcantara.

I tried talking to him, one-on-one, and he offered brief, hushed platitudes, such as, "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and try to get better every day."

So I changed the mood of my questions, smiled and asked, "Aren't you excited about what's going on? Soler's up and September's in front of you. Strikeouts or not, this is what you dream of. The future is now." Stuff like that.

"I am, I am," Baez said, showing the hint of a smile. "I just don't show too much. But I am, and I'm ready for next year."

Waiting for next year is so last year (and like 104 before that). It's September of this year, and I'm ready to see how Baez and Soler hit right now.

After all, Jackie Robinson West's season is over. We need some fun baseball to watch.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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