As Cubs fade from playoffs, Jorge Soler shows building-block potential


As Cubs fade from playoffs, Jorge Soler shows building-block potential

The question about whether or not Jorge Soler would make a playoff roster morphed into how the Cubs could keep him out of the lineup in October.

No one could have scripted how the Cubs got to this point, but this is what Theo Epstein’s front office had in mind when Soler got $30 million guaranteed in the summer of 2012.

The Cubs are on the verge of offseason planning and free-agent shopping after Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to the New York Mets at Wrigley Field, now trailing three games to zero in a best-of-seven National League Championship Series that began with so much hope.

[MORE: Addison Russell hopes to be ready if Cubs survive and advance to World Series] 

Whatever happens next, the future is still bright on the North Side (with no guarantees this core group will ever be four wins away from the World Series again). Back in spring training, manager Joe Maddon compared Soler to a Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the type of talent that would get drafted No. 1 overall if the Cuban outfielder had been born in the United States.

After an up-and-down year, Soler turned it on in the postseason, getting on base in his first nine plate appearances, the longest stretch in major-league history. While he didn’t look comfortable in ski-mask weather at Citi Field, he doesn’t seem to mind playing beneath the bright lights of October. 

After getting shut down by Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard over the weekend, the Cubs faced Jacob deGrom, arguably the best of the young power pitchers the Mets have in their arsenal. You didn’t need to be part of Maddon’s “Geek Department” to find a spot for Soler in the Game 3 lineup at Clark and Addison, where the temperature hit 72 degrees by first pitch at 7:07 p.m.

[RELATED: Power outage: So far, Mets pitching too much for Cubs hitters in NLCS 

“He’s the guy that can put the ball in the seats,” Maddon said.

Soler destroyed deGrom’s 96-mph fastball in the fourth inning, sending it out into the center-field seats for his third postseason home run. Soler drove another deGrom fastball to the warning track in right field in the seventh inning. 

“He’s young, he’s making adjustments culturally,” Maddon said. “Professionally, he still lacks the experience. There’s a lot of work to do on defense and base-running, et cetera. But there’s not many guys in the world that have that kind of power. And I say ‘The World.’”

This will be easy to forget in all the autopsies of this playoff run. And Dexter Fowler did have to bail out Soler on that awkward diving defensive play in the sixth inning, alertly raising his arms on a ball that bounced into the ivy. But Soler has raised his game in the playoffs, hitting .400 (6-for-15) with five RBI and six walks.

Remember, Soler missed roughly two years of game action/development time during the process that led him to defect from Cuba and finally gain clearance to sign that major-league contract.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear

Remember, Soler played only 34, 55 and 62 games across the last three minor-league seasons. Those injury concerns followed him into this year, forcing him to miss almost two months with a sprained ankle and a strained oblique.  

Soler looked more like a role player (10 homers, .723 OPS in 101 games) during the regular season than the dynamic offensive force from last year’s audition (five homers, .903 OPS in 24 games).     

At the age of 23, Soler should only be scratching the surface of his potential, giving the Cubs another young power hitter at a time when offense is at a premium.

“From what I’m hearing, what we’re seeing now is what the projections looked like originally,” Maddon said. “He did the same thing at the end of last year where he really went off. So when I saw him in spring training, as a scout, oh my goodness, he’s a scout’s dream. There’s no question about that. We just have to pull it out of him.”   


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”