Soler, Almora could be starring at Kane County

Soler, Almora could be starring at Kane County
September 19, 2012, 8:45 pm
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One staffer noticed how it seemed like the entire baseball operations department came out to watch Jorge Soler take batting practice last weekend at Wrigley Field.

Such is the curiosity surrounding the $30 million Cuban defector, who was said to have destroyed a few balls that landed on Waveland Avenue.

The Cubs are trying to build from within and sell hope for the future. Now their fans will potentially be able to get an up-close view of Soler, Albert Almora and the next wave of talent that’s supposed to hit the North Side.

The Cubs made it official on Wednesday, announcing a deal with Kane County that had been rumored for weeks, if not months. This puts a Single-A affiliate about 45 miles west of Chicago, a convenient spot to market the players of tomorrow and have big-leaguers rehab from injuries.

“I’m a big fan of having as many affiliates as possible close by to the city,” team president Theo Epstein said. “It creates a lot of efficiencies with rehabs. It allows front office and staff to see the team play a little more often. It also gives our players a feel for the market.

“Before there’s too much pressure on them, they get an understanding of how important baseball is and get to know the fans a little bit. It’s obviously good for the affiliate with a link to the hometown team. I hope it can be a win-win.” 

While it’s way too early to make player personnel decisions, Epstein acknowledged that Kane County would be a logical place for Soler to start his 2013 season: “It’s a possibility, absolutely.”

Epstein also implied that you could see players who recently finished up at short-season Single-A Boise – recent top picks Almora, Pierce Johnson and Daniel Vogelbach – next year in Geneva.

“We had a pretty good group in Boise,” Epstein said. “The natural next step for a lot of those players would be the Midwest League.”

The Cubs also extended their relationships with Boise and Single-A Daytona. Along with Kane County, these player development contracts run through the 2014 season.

The Cubs had a long relationship with Peoria – where Greg Maddux, Mark Grace and Joe Girardi once played for the Chiefs – but decided to go in a different direction. Peoria reached a four-year agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

“It’s never easy, but just try to handle things professionally,” Epstein said. “If you look, the whole Midwest League just about turned over and it’s par for the course these days.

“Just from my own experience in Boston – where we had Pawtucket, Portland and Lowell nearby – I think there’s no replacing proximity. It’s an outstanding feature.”

The organization could decide to drop the “Cougars” nickname and turn the team into the Kane County Cubs, though it didn’t sound like there were immediate plans to do so. 

Whether or not Soler is wearing that jersey next season, the Cubs will take a conservative approach, as evidenced by their decision to keep him out of the high-profile Arizona Fall League.

“We feel like he’s at a point in his development where he needs a lot of instruction,” Epstein said. “He hasn’t played a ton of quote-unquote ‘organized baseball’ and hasn’t gone through a spring training with the club yet. It’s not a question of talent.

“But there’s a lot about ‘The Cubs Way’ that we want to teach him. It’s a good chance to get one-on-one instruction. There are some small mechanical adjustments we want him to make in his swing with his stride direction (and) where he starts (and) loads his hands. Those types of adjustments are better made under the club’s supervision and in a one-on-one environment in instructional league, where you can use video day after day after day.

“It’s just a better environment for him to develop.”