What does Soler signing do to Cubs' system?

696480.png

What does Soler signing do to Cubs' system?

Now that the Cubs have signed Jorge Soler, things are about to change for the franchise, right?

Well, not so fast, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Just ask Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, who tweeted Monday: "Cubs system is getting better. Throw in potential returns for Dempster, Garza and a big pick in 2013 and it could be a HUGE step forward."

Talk about unbridled optimism for Cubs fans, eh? The big-league club may be on pace to lose a franchise record of games, but the future gets brighter seemingly every day.

Last week, the Cubs selected high school outfielder Albert Almora with the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft, followed by a slew of pitchers.

In January, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded Andrew Cashner for slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who has done nothing but mash in Triple-A since.

And then of course there was 2011 first-round draft pick Javier Baez, a pure hitter out of high school.

So where does Soler fit into all this?

"You could make a very good case that he's No. 1," Jim Callis of Baseball America said on WGN Radio Monday night. "You're talking about a 20-year old kid. To me, it'd be him and Baez. I like Almora a lot. Soler and Baez have a little bit more offensive upside than Almora. I think Almora is a better all-around player, but Soler and Baez are more explosive.

"You're talking about two guys who can do a ton of damage in the middle of the lineup. Soler's got great bat speed. You're looking at at least plus power and a solid runner. He just really fits that right-field profile. I would probably go Soler. I think Baez is going to wind up moving to third. It's Soler-Baez or Baez-Soler for me."

Baez, 19, was recently promoted to Low-A Peoria and carries a .277.370.468 line with five steals in 13 games.

With Almora, Rizzo, Baez and Soler in tow, joining Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson and Junior Lake, diehard Cubs fans like David Kaplan have something to get excited about.

On CTL Monday, Kap put together a graphic that showed what the Cubs' lineup could look like on Opening Day in 2015:

1. Brett Jackson LF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Albert Almora CF
4. Anthony Rizzo 1B
5. Jorge Soler RF
6. Javier Baez 3B
7. Junior Lake 2B
8. Steve Clevenger C
9. Jeff Samardzija P

"I can very much see that scenario," Callis said of Kap's projected 2015 lineup. "I think that's realistic. That's what the Cubs are building toward. The good news, too, is when I look long-term at this division, there's not a team that stands out.

"You look at the Rangers, where they have a great major-league team and a great farm system. Or the AL East where you have all these financial power houses and you have the Rays and you have the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays might have the best farm system in the game if the Rangers don't.

"There's nobody in the NL Central where I look at and say 'wow, that team's going to be tough to beat in three years.' Cubs fans are going to have to take their lumps for the next couple of years, but when you look long-term in that division, there's no one positioned to just ride roughshod over everybody else for the next five or 10 years."

So the offense looks pretty dang good. Again, if everybody fulfills their potential and sticks with the team.

But what about the pitching? Apart from Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza (who may very well wind up involved in a trade), the Cubs aren't sure what they have in the way of pitching prospects. But they set out to try to correct that problem in last week's draft.

"Almora got the bulk of the attention in this year's draft as the sixth overall pick, but the Cubs came back and got pitchers with the next six or seven picks," Callis said. "Supplemental pick Pierce Johnson is a guy who probably could have gone in the first round if he hadn't had a little forearm stiffness that cost him a couple weeks. That's a first-round talent.

"Supplemental pick Paul Blackburn is a good high school pitcher from California who's polished. Second-round pick Duane Underwood has a tremendous fastball. They have some guys there. The question is going to be what else the system can produce. Trey McNutt is a good arm, but probably more of a reliever than a starter in the long term. Dillon Maples -- we really haven't seen a whole lot of since he got 2.5 million. That's gonna be the focus now is finding some pitching to go with all this offensive talent."

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

Jim Thome: Getting into baseball Hall of Fame would be indescribable

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally upbeat and positive, Jim Thome can’t help but beam with pride when asked about his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Thome, who blasted 612 career home runs, including 134 with the White Sox, is eligible for induction for the first time in 2018. Even though he’s expected by many to one day be voted into Cooperstown, perhaps even in his first year, Thome said he’s merely honored to be on the ballot. Thome is joined on the ballot by Chipper Jones and former teammate Omar Vizquel, among others. Voting begins in December and the results will be announced next January.

“To even be on the ballot and thought of, it would be the greatest honor I think you could get,” Thome said. “Or if you get an opportunity to go into the greatest fraternity baseball has or created, it would be indescribable. How do you ever think as a kid or a high school player or even going through the minor leagues, that you’d play at the big leagues that long? And then to get an opportunity at the end of your career to be put on the ballot is so great.

“That would be the coolest moment ever.”

Thome – who is in White Sox camp as a special assistant to the general manager – provided plenty of big moments in a career that spanned 22 seasons. He hit 30 home runs in 12 of 13 seasons between 1996-2008, leading the league with 47 in 2003. The slugger was a five-time All-Star and produced 72.9 b-Wins Above Replacement.

[RELATED: Brett Lawrie trying to clear final hurdles]

Thome isn’t as superstitious about his candidacy as others previously have been. He won’t be the guy to bring up the topic, but the Peoria, Ill.-native doesn’t shy away from discussing it, either.

“It’s not something you talk a lot about,” Thome said. “We’re not going to bring it up. But when people do bring it up, there’s a sense of pride, a sense of ‘Wow, baseball has thought that highly to put you on the ballot.’ And the fact that there’s just this wonderful fraternity of incredible players that you could be a part of, if you’re chosen.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

MESA, Ariz. – This is a big bowl of wrong: Cubs manager Joe Maddon might have missed his only window to make the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" cameo appearance Jeff Garlin promised. 

Garlin – a Second City alumnus and one of several celebrity fans within the team's orbit – had offered Maddon a role whenever Larry David brought the band back together for the loosely scripted HBO comedy.

But last week's Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore conflicted with filming in Southern California, where "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is working on a ninth season after a five-year hiatus.

"There was one matchup, and I couldn't get there," Maddon said before Sunday's World Series rematch against the Cleveland Indians at Sloan Park. "I just couldn't do it. It'll happen."

During an all-over-the-place session with reporters that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon declined to make any Oscar predictions, saying he's into Netflix and Hulu now and doesn't really go to the movies anymore.

Maddon also hasn't watched much – or any – of the World Series highlights or documentaries. When it came to the handling Aroldis Chapman part, there were some boos inside Chicago's Civic Opera House during the premiere of Major League Baseball's "The 2016 World Series."

But Maddon said he basically skipped that type of content after being Mike Scioscia's bench coach for the 2002 Anaheim Angels and managing the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 World Series.

"You get busy and I don't know," Maddon said. "I need to start reading more and watching Netflix less."

Didn't you say that last spring?

"I did," Maddon said.

Maddon had been addicted to cable news during last year's polarizing presidential campaign: "But, damn, it's gotten really annoying, so I stopped watching all that stuff. It's just not good for your brain. It's really not. There's nothing to be gained."

When Maddon starts rolling, it's not hard to picture him in a scene with David and J.B. Smoove. Shaquille O'Neal, John McEnroe and Bill Buckner are among the sports figures with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" credits.

"That was the only day, so I don't know how we're going to figure this out," Maddon said. "First, they had one day set up, and that was going to be good. And then they had to change it to this other day, which was not good. So we'll have to (come up with something else), even if it's maybe a picture on the wall or a phone call."