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."

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”