The Cubs believe Jorge Soler is on a mission. His next stop could be Clark and Addison.
This wasn’t exactly a prove-it-or-else season for the Cuban outfielder with the nine-year, $30 million major-league contract. But Soler has answered some of the questions about his development, showing why he became a signature signing for the Theo Epstein administration.
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Soler just got promoted to Triple-A Iowa late Tuesday night, but the Cubs see their long-range vision coming into focus. Sources familiar with the team’s thinking expect Soler to be at Wrigley Field at some point in September.
Of course, Epstein said, status on the 40-man roster is always a consideration (Soler has it, Javier Baez doesn’t), adding that no final decisions have been made. Moves could depend on if Iowa makes the playoffs and how long that postseason run lasts.
But it’s not just the eye-popping numbers Soler put up this month at Double-A Tennessee, hitting .463 with six homers, 15 RBI and a 1.538 OPS in 15 games since recovering from lingering hamstring issues.
“We’re impressed by how he’s sort of taken responsibility for his own development,” Epstein said Wednesday, “taken accountability for being on the field and for getting where he wants to be. He basically told us: ‘It’s my time. Watch me.’ And he’s gone out and done it.”
Soler’s physical gifts are obvious. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and still only 22 years old. He has a powerful right-handed swing that needed more time to develop after missing game action for about two years while defecting from Cuba, training in the Dominican Republic and establishing residency in Haiti before being cleared to sign in the United States.
Epstein liked the way Soler began to lay off tough breaking pitches, channeling his aggressiveness and driving balls in the air to all fields. People who have worked with Soler describe him as a good kid with better-than-expected baseball instincts.
Soler’s assimilation process didn’t go smoothly last season, when he grabbed a bat during a bench-clearing incident at advanced Class-A Daytona. He played only 55 games after fouling a ball off his left leg during spring training and developing a stress fracture. That led to whispers during the Arizona Fall League.
“He’s always been a pretty mature kid,” Epstein said. “I think a lot of people rushed to judgment on him with respect to his on-field makeup because of what they saw in the Fall League. That’s where a lot of scouts saw Soler for the first time, and he was playing hurt.
“We asked him to take it easy on his leg, so a lot of scouts saw him jogging to first base, walking out to his position at times. That was really done in an effort to protect his leg. Now that he’s healthy, he’s playing with a little bit more passion.”
Cubs fans watching a last-place team, sitting through another rebuilding season, would love to see Soler’s sense of urgency.
“We’re rewarding him because it looks like he’s on a mission to get to the big leagues,” Epstein said.