Cubs banking on a breakthrough year for Jorge Soler

Cubs banking on a breakthrough year for Jorge Soler
January 15, 2014, 11:00 pm
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Who is Jorge Soler?

Cubs fans have been wondering that ever since Theo Epstein’s front office made the Cuban outfielder a top target during the regime change at Clark and Addison in 2011.

It’s still hard to get a read on Soler, who made headlines for the wrong reasons last season, getting suspended for grabbing a bat during a bench-clearing incident and benched for not hustling.

More than any of the other prospects in town for this week’s rookie-development program, Soler should now know what it’s like to have a target on your back.

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“I understand that I have to respect the game,” Soler said through a translator. “Things like that won’t happen and shouldn’t happen.”

Alex Suarez – one of the scouts who had helped recruit Soler and close the $30 million deal – served as the interpreter after Wednesday’s workout inside Northwestern University’s field house. In 2014, the organization hopes nothing gets lost in translation.

Soler missed roughly two years of game action after playing in the 2010 World Junior Championships in Canada. He defected from Cuba, trained in the Dominican Republic and finally established residency in Haiti before getting clearance in the United States to sign a nine-year, major-league deal in 2012.

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The Cubs had to shut down Soler last summer after only 55 games at advanced Class-A Daytona. He had fouled a ball off his left leg near the end of spring training and wound up with a stress fracture.

The Cubs then told Soler to take it easy during the Arizona Fall League, which led to whispers about a chiseled athlete who’s listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.

“We actually asked him not to push the running too hard,” said Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting and player development. “It didn’t look great at times. I had scouts and other people ask me like: ‘Why isn’t this guy playing hard?’

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“It still was valuable for him to get the (at-bats). Now, he looks great. Obviously, he’s a physical specimen and everything’s looking really good. So going forward, we’re really excited about what the year holds for him.”

Soler hit .281 with eight homers, 35 RBI and 22 walks in 210 at-bats with Daytona, showing power, discipline and an understanding of the strike zone, all the qualities that convinced the Cubs to go all-in before a new collective bargaining agreement capped international spending.

Soler knows he needs to get used to the grind. McLeod agreed, saying Soler could be in better “baseball-playing shape.”

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“I don’t think he knew what it was like to go 140 games in the minor leagues, not including spring training,” McLeod said. “Even though the Florida State League isn’t a tough league from a bus-ride perspective, it’s still getting on a bus and playing every night and understanding what that means. (That) was good for him last year.”

Cubs people say Soler is a good kid, someone who will turn 22 years old next month but has already experienced what must be an unbelievable cultural shock. Maybe this will be the breakthrough where everyone finds out about his game.

“I understand that preparation has a lot to do with it,” Soler said. “Going into this year, I’ve prepared myself a little better. I missed way too many at-bats and games and I don’t feel it’s going to happen this year.”