PHOENIX – Jorge Soler isn’t living up to his own high expectations.
That speaks to Soler’s enormous potential, the perceptions that came with his $30 million contract, the instant impact made by other Cuban power hitters and the runaway hype surrounding seemingly every Cubs prospect.
“So far, I don’t feel good about what I’m doing,” Soler said through interpreter/coach Franklin Font. “I expect more from me.”
Soler leaned against a wall before Saturday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, meeting with a small group of reporters in the tunnel that leads from Chase Field’s visiting clubhouse to the dugout.
[MORE CUBS: Cubs sticking with Hector Rondon as their closer]
By the eighth inning, Soler showed why the Cubs think he will be a difference-maker this season and beyond. He hammered a 92 mph fastball from Arizona lefty reliever Oliver Perez into the right-field gap for the game-tying, two-run double in an eventual 9-6 victory.
Soler is still a productive player who began the day leading all National League rookies with 43 hits, putting up a .725 OPS and staying healthy enough to play in every game this season.
Soler also led all NL hitters with 59 strikeouts, which seems out of character for someone who developed a reputation for being such a polished hitter with an advanced understanding of the strike zone.
After seeing the pitch right before his big hit, Soler had actually started heading toward first base, thinking he had just drawn a walk.
“I want to be more consistent offensively,” Soler said.
Soler admitted he’s been getting more breaking balls than last season, chasing too many sliders in the dirt and not recognizing enough pitches he can drive. He’s homered once since his two-homer game against the Cincinnati Reds on April 13 (when the Blackhawks hadn’t even started their playoff run yet).
“We’ve been working with him regarding just approach and thinking different things at the plate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Typically, he’s that kind of guy that you have to be patient with. You can see the talent is awesome. You just have to wait for it all to show up. You can’t get frustrated. You can’t get upset with him. You can’t get annoyed with him.
“His personality presents in a certain way. And I think when he’s going well, that method’s going to really benefit him. He’s the kind of guy when he’s not going well that you’re going to pick out a lot of different things and wish he were better at (them) – or more demonstrative. But when he’s going well, it’s: Hey, this guy is always chill. He’s always calm in a tight moment.
“When it shows up, it’s going to be really good for a long time.”
[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Jorge Soler jersey here]
The Cubs have to feel better about Soler’s durability since injury issues have been the biggest question marks hovering over the 23-year-old outfielder.
Soler credited the team’s training staff and a different strength and conditioning program. He said his legs have been feeling so good that he’s been extra aggressive running the bases.
“I heard all the stuff,” Maddon said. “As guys get older, too, they do start to understand how to take care of themselves a little bit better.
“We’ve talked to him a lot about it. I think it comes down to the individual more than anything. Sometimes, there are bodies that are predisposed to breaking down. They just are, for whatever reason. But you try to do your best in regards to nutrition, training methods, whether it’s stretching, weightlifting, strength and conditioning, whatever. So far, it’s worked out pretty good.”
Remember, Soler played in 151 minor-league games combined across parts of the last three seasons. He estimated a typical season for an amateur player in Cuba would last about 36 games. He said he’s not worried about the grind of a 162-game marathon.
“I feel good physically,” Soler said. “I don’t think I’ll have any problems like that.”