Chicago White Sox

Cubs make it official, sign Soler to nine-year deal

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Cubs make it official, sign Soler to nine-year deal

Glenn Braggs was so powerful, he once snapped his bat off at the handle following through on a swing. The ex-outfielder for Milwaukee and Cincinnati had plenty of upper body strength, enough to make his bat-breaking abilities a reality instead of an urban legend.

In terms of body type, Braggs was the name Cubs manager Dale Sveum came up with when asked about Jorge Soler, who the Cubs officially signed to a nine-year deal on Saturday.

"You can probably go on and on about the body type and everything like that, like a Glenn Braggs-type," Sveum said. "You see his body and the size and that kind of strength at a young age, it's pretty impressive. Hopefully it all translates into a huge, productive player at this level."

Soler is years away from the major leagues, and general manager Jed Hoyer wouldn't even estimate when the 20-year-old will begin playing in games in the Cubs' minor league system. Soler will begin his journey with the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., as part of "his own version of spring training."

Getting Soler up to speed on the diamond is only half the battle for the Cubs. Getting the native of Cuba adjusted to the United States, with its different culture and language, is a priority for the organization.

"I think we have to do a really good job focusing on his assimilation," Hoyer said.
"For any player coming from Cuba, this is a lot different, and we have to understand that and we have to take it slow with him and realize that professional baseball's hard for any player, let alone someone that's coming from a completely different culture."

The Cubs have plenty of Cuban influence within the organization, from VP of player personnel Oneri Fleita to player developmentinternational scouting coordinator Alex Suarez to 20-year-old lefty Gerardo Concepcion, who's currently pitching for Single-A Peoria. Soler, who doesn't have any family in the country yet, won't be alone, whether he's in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee or Iowa.

But despite his blue-chip prospect status and major-league contract, Soler won't race from state to state as he works his way through the Cubs' farm system -- that is, unless he earns it.

"We're going to develop him the same way we develop anyone, but obviously a little different care with a Cuban player," Hoyer said. "He has to prove himself level to level, we're not going to try to speed him through the minors. There's no reason to do that. He has to prove himself like anyone else does. We're going to treat him that way."

Hoyer wouldn't go as far as Sveum in matching Soler to a current or former player. But he did mention that Soler may not stay where the Cubs start him on the field.

"I won't comp him out," Hoyer said. "I think you'll be really impressed when you see him physically. He's a huge person, very big man. Right now, he moves really well. We're going to start him out in right field. He could end up moving at some point ... because he is that big."

While Hoyer was never scared a deal wouldn't get done with Soler, he did appear relieved to complete the signing with only a few days to spare before the July 2 cutoff date. Soler's signing, which Hoyer joked "wasn't the best-kept secret of all time," was initially reported 19 days ago. While the process took a while, the Cubs are just happy to have Soler in the fold.

"We think he provides a ton of power potential for us," Hoyer said. "It's obviously a significant commitment for us, but we feel like he fits very well into what we're trying to do. He's the right age, the right talent, and we're excited to finally get him started here."

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

Avisail Garcia's "big head" almost cost the White Sox on Friday night. At least, that's Reynaldo Lopez's humorous theory. 

With the game on the line and the Royals' tying run dashing for the plate, Garcia slipped a bit before making a clutch recovery to nail Whit Merrifield. The craziness continued after the tag as Narvaez caught Lorenzo Cain drifting off first base to seal a win. 

"I was watching the game on the TV here," Lopez said, "and then when I saw the hit from Cain, and I saw that Avi fell down because he has a big head, I was concerned but at the same time I saw that his throw, he has a good arm and he made a very good throw." 

Just your average 9-2-4-6 double play to end a game on the South Side, right? 

"Obviously, when he slipped we took a little gasp," Renteria said. "But we were talking about his body control to be able to maintain himself enough to get up and make the throw that he did. Unbelievable. It's pretty exciting finish to a ballgame that kind of got a little ugly early on."

Ugly is an apt way to describe the first few innings. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada both made errors in the Royals' six-run third inning, and Lopez capped it off with a wild pitch that allowed Eric Hosmer to score. But it went from an eyesore loss to an overzealous "we could make noise in 2019" rebuild win from there, and Garcia's defense -- of all things -- played a significant role. 

Garcia's outfield assist in the ninth was his second of the game. The first, an absolute strike to cut down Alex Gordon in the sixth, didn't involve a slip, though. 

And while much has been made of Garcia's breakout year with the bat, he believes his defense is hugely improved, too. 

"I think 100 percent," he said. "I just try to get better every day with hitting and defense. That’s baseball so get better in everything."

He has 12 outfield assists on the season, up from five a year ago. And despite his overall fielding percentage being down, his strong arm may give him a stronger defensive reputation. 

"Since last year, he's always had an excellent arm," Renteria said. "I think his accuracy is something to be pointed out too because as off balance as he was, he's made some throws to the plate that have been really spot on."

Renteria attributes Garcia's accuracy to the outfielder putting in extra time with Daryl Boston. 

"(Boston) has those guys throwing, and none of you guys are out there watching them work, but they'll throw quite a bit to the bases, especially second base," Renteria said. "They'll get deep and they'll work on doing that, so that's just a part of their routine."

The evolution of Avi carries on. 

Sprinting toward October, Cubs close in on another division title

Sprinting toward October, Cubs close in on another division title

MILWAUKEE – “Yeah, that really killed us, that sweep at Wrigley,” John Lackey said sarcastically late Friday night, dismissing a question about what’s happened to the Cubs since the Milwaukee Brewers made their statement against the defending World Series champs two weekends ago. “Come on, dude, it’s 162 games. Things happen.”

The Cubs are 9-1 since then, but Lackey was in no mood to talk about this finishing kick in the National League Central race, probably because manager Joe Maddon gave him the quick hook in a Big Boy Game, pulling him with a runner on and no outs in the fifth inning. But that’s what’s happening here, the Cubs sprinting away from the Brewers and peaking at the right time.

The Brewers are gasping for air after these pulsating back-to-back nights at Miller Park, the Cubs again coming from behind to win in 10 innings and close in on their second straight division title and third playoff appearance in a row, something this franchise hasn’t done since the run capped by the 1908 World Series title repeat.

After a hard-earned 5-4 win, the Cubs knocked the Brewers back to third place and chopped the magic number to eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals down to five, meaning the clinch party could be in Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse next week.

“We played fine that series, actually,” Lackey said, referencing three games where the Cubs lost 2-0, 15-2 and 3-1, allowing the Brewers and Cardinals within two games of first place. “S---, you can lose in this league and still play good. That’s why it’s the big leagues.”

Actually, it looks like the Cubs responded to the challenge from an upstart team, the crowd of 40,116 and a playoff environment.

“It’s been amazing,” Carl Edwards Jr. said. “It actually felt like last year’s World Series when I came in the 10th inning.”

Edwards notched the last five outs this time – with All-Star closer Wade Davis unavailable because he did the same thing the night before – part of a group effort that included a guy whose right elbow hadn’t allowed him to pitch since Sept. 8 (Hector Rondon) and a lefty swingman who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning three days ago against the Tampa Bay Rays (Mike Montgomery).

Lackey’s response when asked about the bullpen’s performance – three runs allowed in 11 innings – halfway through a four-game showdown: “They’ve been asked to do a lot…and they’ve really stepped up and done a great job.”

“In order to win, you’re going to need contributions from non-All-Star players at times,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You’re going to have to get contributions from players stepping up because of someone else’s bad performance or someone else’s injury.

“You want your best players to play best in these situations. But ultimately that won’t always happen. And when that doesn’t happen, you’re going to need some contributions from other guys.”

That’s been crucial for the 2017 Cubs. The game-winning run scored when Tommy La Stella – the pinch-hitter who had been dealing with a groin injury recently and personal issues that led him to walk away from the organization last summer – drew a bases-loaded walk against All-Star closer Corey Knebel.

If you want to see a grinding approach for October, just look at Jon Jay’s 15-pitch at-bat against Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff in the fifth inning, which led to a leadoff single, Ben Zobrist’s two-run single up the middle and a 4-3 lead after Lackey’s slow start.

Yeah, the Cubs look locked in now.

“I’m so proud of the way our guys (respond),” Maddon said. “They get hit a little bit, maybe something to the solar plexus, but we still keep going.”