Cubs trying to tap into Jorge Soler’s ‘superstar’ potential

Cubs trying to tap into Jorge Soler’s ‘superstar’ potential

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.” 

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.”