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updated: 8/14/2012 8:38 PM

Cubs' future looks bright ... with power

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  • Cubs prospect Jorge Soler connects fires the ball to second as the Class A Peoria Chiefs took on the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer.

       Cubs prospect Jorge Soler connects fires the ball to second as the Class A Peoria Chiefs took on the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs prospect Jorge Soler is already drawing rave reviews after moving up to Class A Peoria.

       Cubs prospect Jorge Soler is already drawing rave reviews after moving up to Class A Peoria.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs prospect Jorge Soler connects with the ball as the Class A Peoria Chiefs took on the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer.

       Cubs prospect Jorge Soler connects with the ball as the Class A Peoria Chiefs took on the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The future looks bright for Cuban-born player Jorge Soler who signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer with the Cubs. Last week he was promoted from the Arizona Fall League to Class A Peoria.

       The future looks bright for Cuban-born player Jorge Soler who signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer with the Cubs. Last week he was promoted from the Arizona Fall League to Class A Peoria.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Cubs prospect Jorge Soler signs autographs before a game with the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer. Last week he was promoted to Class A Peoria.

       Cubs prospect Jorge Soler signs autographs before a game with the Beliot Snappers Monday night in Beliot, Wisconsin. Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million contract this summer. Last week he was promoted to Class A Peoria.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

The smile stretches on Jorge Soler's face like a ball smoked off his bat.

It's almost enough to take divert your attention from the linebacker-wide shoulders and muscular arms on his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. The gold chain around his neck is nearly as thick as his thighs.

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"Big guy -- grande, fuerte," said Peoria Chiefs player/coach Kenny Socorro with a grin, acknowledging an observation while craning his neck and translating for the large, strong ballplayer standing next to him.

Since arriving in the United States less than two months ago after signing a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs, the 20-year-old Soler has had ample reason to flash his million-buck smile.

Included is, yes, his megadeal, which comes with expectations larger than the Cuban outfielder's impressive physique.

"I haven't been here that long, but it's been a good experience so far," said Soler, who speaks no English, through Socorro, who served as his translator before a Peoria Chiefs game this week at the Beloit Snappers' Pohlman Field in southern Wisconsin.

"I'm happy where I'm at. There are a couple of things I need to work on, like getting my timing back, but overall I feel good."

Peoria manager Casey Kopitzke got a good feeling when he met Soler last week.

"Big, strong, physical," Kopitzke said. "That's the first I noticed when I saw him."

Once Soler hit a few baseballs in batting practice and in games, Kopitzke noticed something else.

"He's showed some good discipline, and when he gets that ball squared up, it makes a different sound off the bat," Kopitzke said. "It's definitely been fun to see him and see where he's at."

While little has been good for Chicago's National League ballclub in a season of rebuilding, the Cubs' future has been on display in central Illinois.

Class A Peoria boasted highly touted shortstop Javier Baez, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, until his promotion to high Class A Daytona on Aug. 4. Baez's move essentially coincided with Soler's bump up from the Arizona Fall League to Peoria.

Baez left Peoria with a .333 batting average in 213 at-bats with 12 homers, a .383 on-base percentage and 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. The 19-year-old, who was born in Puerto Rico but attended high school in Florida, also impressed in the field, despite committing 15 errors.

"He just did a tremendous job in the time that he was here," said Kopitzke, who spent eight years in the Cubs' organization as a player. "You look at all the different aspects and the ways that he was able to affect the game. It wasn't just with his bat.

"You look at the things he did on the bases and the things he did defensively. Every night he had a chance to change the game in three different ways.

"He's special. He's a different player. You look at him every night on the field, and he just stands out."

Minor-league baseball experts have speculated that Baez eventually could be moved to third base, but based on what he saw during the course of the summer, Kopitzke thinks there is no reason why Baez couldn't be a quality shortstop at the major-league level.

Baez's instincts stood out as much as his arm strength and range.

"All I can say is, what I saw here, he did a good job at shortstop," Kopitzke said. "He made some outstanding plays. He gets real good reads off the bat, and then he's got the athletic ability to do so many different things -- on the ball coming in, the ball going in the hole or up the middle.

"(He has) the ability to dive, get to his feet and make a quick throw, and his exchanges are so quick on the double plays. I think his athleticism is his real strength."

"He's a great player," said Peoria second baseman Zeke DeVoss, who was drafted in the third round last year. "It was awesome to play second base next to him. I had no worries. He was always giving me great feeds on double plays, making great plays in the hole, making good flips. He was a lot of fun to play next to. He's going to have a great career."

Baez's power to all fields impressed DeVoss.

"He had just as much power to right field as he did to left," DeVoss said. "He wasn't one of those guys who would go up there in BP and try to pull the ball and hit balls 500 feet to left field. He was hitting them just as far to right field as he does to left."

Baez has gotten off to a rough start at Daytona, with only 2 hits in his first 22 at-bats, but the Cubs will stress patience with their young prospect.

"He generates so much bat speed," Kopitzke said. "When he hits the ball, and when he hits it square, with his bat speed and the way he gets backspin off his bat, it just jumps. It carries. He definitely has the ability to drive the ball to all fields."

In his first week with Peoria, Soler has shown similar talent with the bat in his hands, going 5-for-14 (.357 batting average) with no strikeouts. The right-handed slugger had a pair of home runs in Arizona.

Soler hit the ball hard in each of his three plate appearances in Peoria's 3-2 loss to Beloit on Monday night, going 2-for-3 with a single into the hole and line-drive double into the left-center gap.

Saturday, in just his second game with Peoria, he homered to center field with the bases loaded for what he said was the first grand slam of his life.

"It felt really good," Soler said with a wide smile. "I was very happy."

The special moment, perhaps the first of many in his professional baseball career, wasn't lost on those who witnessed it.

"The crowd, even being here (in Beloit), gave him a good round of applause," Kopitzke said.

Highly sought by several major-league organizations, Soler said he chose to sign with the Cubs because of the positive vibe he got from them. While in the Dominican Republic during the off-season, he got the chance to meet Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro.

So did the two Cubs help recruit him?

"A little bit," Soler said with a laugh.

Kopitzke said the organization wants to see Soler play right field. A third baseman while growing up in Cuba, Soler said he has been playing the outfield for only a couple of years. Perhaps that's why he said it's his defense that he needs to work on the most.

As for when he hopes to be playing in Wrigley Field, Soler has no timetable.

"I want to be a leader in this organization," he said, "before I go anywhere."

He's come far already.

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