White Sox

Cubs make it official, sign Soler to nine-year deal

794756.jpg

Cubs make it official, sign Soler to nine-year deal

Glenn Braggs was so powerful, he once snapped his bat off at the handle following through on a swing. The ex-outfielder for Milwaukee and Cincinnati had plenty of upper body strength, enough to make his bat-breaking abilities a reality instead of an urban legend.

In terms of body type, Braggs was the name Cubs manager Dale Sveum came up with when asked about Jorge Soler, who the Cubs officially signed to a nine-year deal on Saturday.

"You can probably go on and on about the body type and everything like that, like a Glenn Braggs-type," Sveum said. "You see his body and the size and that kind of strength at a young age, it's pretty impressive. Hopefully it all translates into a huge, productive player at this level."

Soler is years away from the major leagues, and general manager Jed Hoyer wouldn't even estimate when the 20-year-old will begin playing in games in the Cubs' minor league system. Soler will begin his journey with the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., as part of "his own version of spring training."

Getting Soler up to speed on the diamond is only half the battle for the Cubs. Getting the native of Cuba adjusted to the United States, with its different culture and language, is a priority for the organization.

"I think we have to do a really good job focusing on his assimilation," Hoyer said.
"For any player coming from Cuba, this is a lot different, and we have to understand that and we have to take it slow with him and realize that professional baseball's hard for any player, let alone someone that's coming from a completely different culture."

The Cubs have plenty of Cuban influence within the organization, from VP of player personnel Oneri Fleita to player developmentinternational scouting coordinator Alex Suarez to 20-year-old lefty Gerardo Concepcion, who's currently pitching for Single-A Peoria. Soler, who doesn't have any family in the country yet, won't be alone, whether he's in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee or Iowa.

But despite his blue-chip prospect status and major-league contract, Soler won't race from state to state as he works his way through the Cubs' farm system -- that is, unless he earns it.

"We're going to develop him the same way we develop anyone, but obviously a little different care with a Cuban player," Hoyer said. "He has to prove himself level to level, we're not going to try to speed him through the minors. There's no reason to do that. He has to prove himself like anyone else does. We're going to treat him that way."

Hoyer wouldn't go as far as Sveum in matching Soler to a current or former player. But he did mention that Soler may not stay where the Cubs start him on the field.

"I won't comp him out," Hoyer said. "I think you'll be really impressed when you see him physically. He's a huge person, very big man. Right now, he moves really well. We're going to start him out in right field. He could end up moving at some point ... because he is that big."

While Hoyer was never scared a deal wouldn't get done with Soler, he did appear relieved to complete the signing with only a few days to spare before the July 2 cutoff date. Soler's signing, which Hoyer joked "wasn't the best-kept secret of all time," was initially reported 19 days ago. While the process took a while, the Cubs are just happy to have Soler in the fold.

"We think he provides a ton of power potential for us," Hoyer said. "It's obviously a significant commitment for us, but we feel like he fits very well into what we're trying to do. He's the right age, the right talent, and we're excited to finally get him started here."

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

mickeradolfo.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”