SAN FRANCISCO – During Friday night’s postgame news conference, manager Joe Maddon gushed about Jorge Soler’s performance, which took on added significance with the Cubs not knowing what would show up on Jason Heyward’s MRI.
“I want to believe that he understands what we’re talking about,” Maddon said, analyzing Soler. “Now he went out and did it. And that’s the kind of mental effort that can make him a superstar.”
Soler isn’t about to become the everyday right fielder. The Cubs could exhale once they found out Heyward’s injury – bruised right side/rib area – shouldn’t be a disabled-list situation. But the issue for the Cubs and Soler remains the same – tapping into that potential on a more regular basis and sustaining a superstar-level of concentration.
“I’m more worried about what he’s thinking, I swear, because physically he’s got all the gifts that God could bestow on a baseball player,” Maddon said. “So now if we could really just get him to process the day properly, work every at-bat, work every trip around the bases, be prepared for every pitch defensively, this guy could be really, really good.”
Maddon looked beyond the 2-for-4/home run box score and accounted for all of Soler’s contributions during Friday’s 8-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, making two difficult catches at the left-field wall and taking an aggressive turn rounding first base.
“It’s nice to see George play a complete game,” Maddon said. “That’s what we’re looking for from all of our guys. We just don’t want hitters. We want guys that play a complete game.
“I was really, really pleased to see that – for him and for us. I don’t even care about the home run at all. That has nothing to do with how excited I am right now. It’s that bullet at the second baseman. It’s a homer in the latter part of the game. But everything else he did, I saw a Major League Baseball player out there.
“The way he ran the bases, the way he played defense, his focus during the course of the game, that’s what got me excited.”
Soler began Saturday’s 5-3 loss hitting .200 with a .604 OPS, but he didn’t let his offense effect his defense in the third inning. Soler smoothly cut off a ball in left field, gathered himself and threw out Trevor Brown at second base when San Francisco’s backup catcher tried to stretch an RBI single into a double.
Soler also doubled, scored a run and drew a walk and you can put all this in a wider context. Last year’s exceptional class of rookies also warped the perception of normal speed for player development around the Cubs.
Remember that Soler is only 24, still assimilating into a new culture, learning a different position in The Show while playing for a World Series contender and trying to make up for essentially the two years of game action he lost while defecting from Cuba.
“I’m focused on what I have to do – sometimes things don’t go the right way,” Soler said through coach/interpreter Henry Blanco. “I understand the message. That’s why I’ve been working hard. I’m going to give everything I got on the field. I understand it’s not only about hitting. Just play the game all around and win games.”
Overnight, Soler isn’t going to develop Heyward’s defensive instincts or Ben Zobrist’s plate discipline or Jake Arrieta’s laser focus. Leading up to the trade deadline, it’s also in the best interests of the organization to talk up a player who’s been discussed in deals for pitching. But Maddon is noticing signs that Soler gets it.
“To develop a young player like that, everybody wants to see the ball in the seats – nice,” Maddon said. “Spectacular plays – great. I want to see him run the bases right. I think if he runs the bases properly and diligently and hard, that other stuff will just happen because he is that gifted.”