Cubs

Cubs trying to find a way to unlock Jorge Soler's power

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Cubs trying to find a way to unlock Jorge Soler's power

It can be easy to lose Jorge Soler in the craziness that is the Cubs' rookie movement.

After all, he is the only one of the four rookies who made his big league debut last year, and he's not depositing baseballs in the Wrigley Field bleachers the way Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are or making slick defensive plays like Addison Russell.

But Soler has been playing well as he flies under the radar, hitting .326 in August with a .415 on-base percentage and 12 RBIs in 13 games.

The problem is, Soler had just one extra-base hit in the month before homering with two outs in the ninth inning Sunday. It was his first homer since July 19 and only his fourth longball since hitting two on April 13 (though he did miss more than a month with an ankle injury in June).

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell arrives ahead of schedule for red-hot Cubs]

Soler is hitting the ball hard, lighting up the stat sheet with exit velocities above 100 mph, but he's just not getting much lift right now.

"Trajectory, man. Just the way he swings," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Probably more than anything, the flatness to his swing. There's no real lift involved. It'll happen. He's done it before; he's gonna do it again.

"Right now, if I had to guess, just the fact that he's trying to make hard contact is promoting more of a flat swing, and as he gets more comfortable, he'll be able to lift it a little bit more.

"It's gonna start going up, and it's gonna go out. But the velocity off the bat has been incredible to watch."

[SHOP CUBS: Gear up, Cubs fans]

The Cubs were expecting more power from Soler this season than the six homers he's put up in 84 games.

Soler hit five homers in his 24-game audition with the big league club at the end of last season and he also had 28 longballs and a .539 slugging percentage in 167 career minor league games.

The power is there; the Cubs are just trying to find a way to unlock it.

"I think his natural swing path lends itself to really hard line drives than lofted fly balls right now," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "But, traditionally, players who hit the ball that hard, through time, through learning their own swing, taking certain adjustments, learn how to loft the ball."

Epstein also referenced how many hard-hit balls Soler has has had over the last week-plus, where "with a little bit of elevation would've been long home runs. That's coming."

Soler showed off that power potential Sunday, and the Cubs hope he can turn it on entering the final seven weeks of the season.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: