The Cubs wouldn’t second-guess their evaluation of Jorge Soler, reframing questions about their $30 million Cuban outfielder with answers like: “As long as he stays on the field…” or “When he’s been healthy, he’s produced.”
The Cubs want to see how this big bet will pay off, pulling Soler from Triple-A Iowa’s game on Monday night in Tacoma, Wash., after he hit a three-run bomb off Seattle Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker.
Soler forced the issue at the age of 22 and is expected to make his big-league debut on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. While his nine-year, major-league contract made a September call-up a foregone conclusion, the Cubs couldn’t wait any longer.
There’s no doubt Soler earned it after putting up eight homers, 29 RBI and a .996 OPS in his first 32 games in the Pacific Coast League, showing a mature understanding of the strike zone and what he wants to do at the plate.
The Cubs haven’t accomplished anything yet, but Soler steps into a lineup that already includes Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The farm system still has elite prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell knocking on the door. Theo Epstein’s front office will have the trade chips and the financial flexibility to get a frontline pitcher and a veteran bat this winter.
“We’re not here to make pronouncements or sort of look for deeper meaning,” Epstein told reporters after promoting Baez from Iowa in early August. “That’s your job. But I’d be blind if I didn’t recognize that there are a lot of nice things going on in this organization and there are a lot of reasons for optimism.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. We have a lot of talent moving through our system and getting through to the big-league level, so that provides us opportunities in the near future and the distant future – to make it count and to win.
“We’re excited about that – even as we recognize there is an extraordinary amount of work left to be done. That continues. That doesn’t stop or change one iota because one player’s made it up to the big leagues.”
[MORE CUBS: White Sox Abreu’s advice to Soler: Be mentally tough]
Soler became a huge priority in the first several weeks of the Epstein administration, drawing a contingent of Cubs officials to the Dominican Republic around Thanksgiving 2011.
While the Cubs have been bridesmaids in too many international sweepstakes, they ultimately outbid a group that included the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in June 2012 to get Soler, who cashed in before a new collective bargaining agreement changed the game.
Soler has played only 151 games in the minors, showing a Cubs Way approach (66 walks vs. 105 strikeouts) that’s even more impressive when you consider he missed roughly two years of game action while defecting from Cuba, training in the Dominican Republic, establishing residency in Haiti and finally getting clearance to sign in the United States.
The Cubs backed Soler after the Florida State League suspended him for grabbing a bat during a bench-clearing incident last year, saying he was provoked in an isolated incident. Mariano Duncan, the hitting coach for advanced Class-A Daytona, put it this way during an interview in spring training:
“He let all the emotional stuff bother him,” Duncan explained. “I just said: You know what, you’re a $30 million guy, and everywhere you go, you’re going to see some people that try to yell at you and say a lot of things.
“That’s like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols. Every time those guys go to another place, people want to cheer for them and people want to boo them, because those guys are two of the highest-paid players in baseball.
“A lot of times, you’re going to see some selfish guys. A lot of times, you’re going to see some jealous guys, and they’re going to want to come over and say some bad stuff to you. Don’t let that kind of stuff bother you.”
[MORE CUBS: Cubs believe Jorge Soler is on a mission]
The Cubs dismissed the whispers from anonymous scouts in the Arizona Fall League about body language and effort levels, saying Soler was told to ease up after recovering from a stress fracture in his left leg.
The Cubs did a full-body assessment after Soler dealt with a series of hamstring injuries earlier this season, trying to rewire his balance, stride and posture.
The Cubs gambled on Manny Ramirez, believing the Iowa player/coach could help a young right-handed power hitter with the ability to stay on pitches and drive balls to right-center field.
After being a mystery player for so long, it will be fun to watch Soler on the big stage and see why the Cubs view him as another big piece of the puzzle at Clark and Addison.
“The guys are embracing whatever movement the organization is (leading),” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “They see the young talent that’s here. They saw it in the spring. Now they’re seeing them here on the field. They’re seeing them as teammates. They’re seeing them as guys that contribute and help you win ballgames. Ultimately, that’s the whole goal of any organization, when you’re getting this talent to start to surface. You know they’re going to have hiccups, but in the end, they need to perform.”