Cubs

The Jorge Soler Watch begins now

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The Jorge Soler Watch begins now

As the hype began to build around Anthony Rizzo, Cubs manager Dale Sveum admitted that he looked forward to scanning the minor-league report in his e-mail inbox each morning, to see how the organizations top prospect did the night before with Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs have also installed cameras inside the stadiums at each of their minor-league affiliates. Team president Theo Epstein watched virtually every Rizzo at-bat on video before promoting the 22-year-old first baseman to Chicago last month.

Rizzo has been even better than advertised, hitting .338 with four homers and 10 RBI and showing the potential to be a Gold Glove defender. This doesnt start and end with Rizzo, but the Cubs have won 14 of their last 19 games after Thursdays 4-2 victory over the Miami Marlins.

Some 1,700 miles from Wrigley Field, the next big thing was supposed to make his debut that night with the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona rookie league. The plan was for Jorge Soler, the 30 million Cuban defector, to get three at-bats as the designated hitter.

The Cubs hope those are the first steps toward Clark and Addison.

Its that time, Sveum said. (Youll) get up in the morning and look at the box scores and see how he does. (Youll want to) get the managers report and see how his swings were and how he played the outfield.

Its a pretty impressive swing and strength (level) and obviously body type that should play out in the big leagues.

The Cubs didnt rush Rizzo, and they will show patience with Soler, who at the age of 20 will have to assimilate into a new culture while adjusting to professional baseball.

Jason McLeod, the head of scouting and player development, hopes to see Soler at a minor-league affiliate later this summer and possibly play in the Arizona Fall League (if not, it will be instructional league).

I dont anticipate him being down there very long, McLeod said. I think hell let us know where hes ready to go.

The Cubs had targeted Soler since the beginning of last offseason, with several high-level executives scouting him in the Dominican Republic around Thanksgiving. This was one last talent grab before the new labor deal restricted spending on the international market.

The process of establishing residency and resolving immigration issues took months. The Cubs didnt formally announce their deal with Soler until June 30, beating the deadline set by the collective bargaining agreement.

Its just good to get him back in game action, McLeod said. When we saw him last November, he had been playing a lot and performing incredibly well against all kinds of different pitching. So weve taken it a little slow in terms of seeing live batting practice and wanting to get him as close to ready as we can.

We didnt want to just throw him right in there because he hadnt played in a game in five, six months.

The Cubs believe No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora, a bilingual high school outfielder from South Florida, could help smooth the transition. Almoras family is of Cuban descent. McLeod indicated that Almora and Soler had actually met before and became friendly during the 2010 World Junior Championships in Canada.

Almora, who agreed to a 3.9 million bonus last week, is in the middle of his mini spring training in Arizona and is expected to play his first game on Monday. Soler and Almora could go down as pivotal moves in the first year of the Epstein administration.

When we signed Albert, McLeod said, he was actually really excited because he knew Soler was in Mesa (and wanted) to see him again. He actually asked if he could room with him, but (Soler) already had a roommate down there.

McLeod admitted that he doesnt have much experience dealing with Cuban players, but credited Louis Eljaua and Jose Serra for all the background work and relationship building they did in the Dominican Republic.

Information is everything to this front office. In the run-up to the draft, Epstein stressed character and makeup and how a player would handle failure. Clearly, the Cubs felt like they were able to break down the barriers and invested in Soler, who seemed like such a mystery to the outside world.

As a scout, you get a feel for just the type of human being someone is, McLeod said, whether they speak English or not. This was a kid at 19 years old at the time who was very mature. Even though he wasnt speaking English, he really went out of his way to try to communicate. Just the way he carried himself, there was a real genuineness about him.

(Given) the history that our guys (had with him) its never easy dealing with these kind of dollars but that made it more (comfortable).

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: