MESA, Ariz. – Jorge Soler understands that he has a target on his back.
Mariano Duncan – the advanced Class-A Daytona hitting coach with two World Series rings – delivered that message after restraining the $30 million outfielder during a bat-grabbing, bench-clearing incident last April. Fans and opponents will go after the player with the big name and the big contract. The 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound Cuban won’t blend in easily.
Cubs executives hired Rick Renteria for his upbeat personality and bilingual communication skills, hoping he’d be able to help the franchise’s young core players develop. The new manager has had a few casual conversations with Soler in between running around Cubs Park.
“Very, very calm,” Renteria told reporters Wednesday. “It doesn’t look like pressure affects him very much. He’s a guy that’s obviously going to need to have more experience and continue to develop his skills. But he’s a very high skill-set guy.”
Baseball America recently put Soler at No. 41 on its Top 100 prospects list, even after a season cut short by a stress fracture in his left leg. He hit .281 with eight homers, 35 RBI and an .810 OPS in 55 games at Daytona before playing in the Arizona Fall League.
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Renteria didn’t want to get into what multiple Cubs officials have described as an out-of-character moment for a kid who turned 22 this week and had to deal with unimaginable culture shock. It got Soler suspended five games by the Florida State League.
“I can’t comment on that, because I wasn’t there, so I couldn’t tell you,” Renteria said. “In terms of his demeanor, from what I’ve seen, he’s very composed. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity.”
When asked again about Soler, Renteria didn’t want to make direct comparisons between players. But the manager did say at that age Ken Griffey Jr. had a similar body type and brought the same “physicality.” That’s why Soler will be must-see this spring.