By Tom Ramstetter
CINCINNATI — If Jorge Soler was having trouble with anything Wednesday evening before making his major league debut for the Cubs against the Reds at Great American Ball Park, it was keeping a beaming smile off his face.
Not that that’s a bad thing.
Soler is the eighth Cubs player to debut in 2014, and the excitement from a fresh face has been welcome.
“This is a great opportunity, and they’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball ... the big leagues,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
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That smile reappeared as Soler headed to the dugout in the top of the second inning after clubbing a 423-foot home run over the wall in left-center on a 2-1 pitch from Mat Latos in his first at-bat. It gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead following Luis Valbuena’s homer to right to lead off the second.
Soler became the first Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Starlin Castro did it May 7, 2010, also in Cincinnati.
The right fielder saw no need to hide how he was feeling before the game.
“I’m so excited,” the 22-year-old outfield from Cuba said through interpreter Franklin Font. “I thank the team for this opportunity. I’ve waited three years for this moment.”
What was he expecting?
“I don’t know,” Soler said. “I’ll just go out there and do everything I can for tonight.”
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Renteria said he simply welcomed Soler to the team Wednesday afternoon and made sure he got the signs.
“I let him know if there is anything we can do for him, let us know, and just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.
Of course, Soler smiled.
“You want them to be comfortable,” Renteria said. “You want them to know you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in and we hope for them to have success.”
Soler has had success this season at each stop — rehabbing in Arizona, at Double-A Tennessee and at Triple-A Iowa. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed hitter hit .340 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 57 RBIs in 62 minor league games this season and reached base at a .432 clip with a .700 slugging percentage. In 32 games at Iowa, Soler hit .282 with eight homers and 29 RBIs.
Iowa player-coach Many Ramirez has been instrumental in the prospect’s development.
“He helped me a lot back in Arizona when I was rehabbing and in Iowa, too,” Soler said through Font. “He helped me a lot to think in baseball, and he’s a tremendous person. He’s (had) a lot of influence on me in the right way the last couple months.
“He helps the Latin kids and the young kids down there in Iowa.”
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Soler left Iowa with a bit of advice from Ramirez.
“Everything you can do in Triple-A, you can do it up there,” Soler said of what Ramirez told him before he left for Cincinnati. “Don’t change anything. He knows how hard it is the first day. He said to relax and everything will be OK.”
Soler will be among familiar faces, joining Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Matt Szczur, among others.
“I’ve got more confidence because those guys are teammates already in Triple-A, and it gives me more confidence,” Soler said through Font.
“A lot of confidence. The manager and the organization gave me the opportunity to make my debut and be in the lineup. Hopefully (I will be in there) the next couple games.”