Cubs

Cubs preaching patience on Jorge Soler's development

Cubs preaching patience on Jorge Soler's development

As Joe Maddon passed by a small contingent of fans beyond the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field before Friday's game, one fan found the courage to yell "try not to suck" at the Cubs manager.

That "Maddonism" has become the rallying cry for Cubs Nation in 2016, but baseball isn't always that simple.

Maddon can't simply tell Jorge Soler to "try not to suck."

Soler entered play Sunday hitting .174, which would be the lowest mark in the National League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. His .530 OPS would also be the fourth-lowest mark in the NL if he qualified.

Soler's struggles culminated in a rough game Wednesday night, as he struck out all four times up and left four men on base in the Cubs' 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres.

Still, Maddon kept trotting Soler out there, giving him the start in left field each of the first two games against the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend. Soler went 1-for-6 with a walk and a run in those two games against a pair of left-handed pitchers.

"He just has to go out there and play," Maddon said. "He needs opportunity. When a guy has a tough day, I don't get really carried away in a negative way. It's part of development. It's part of making a young player a good major league player.

"When you're attempting to develop young players, there's a lot of patience involved. And then if you put your scout's hat on, you can see what the eventual reward is going to look like. A guy like Jorge, you have to be patient."

Soler flashed his potential when he posted a .903 OPS and 20 RBIs during his 24-game cup of coffee in 2014.

He also set a record by reaching base nine straight times to begin the postseason, drawing five walks and collecting four hits — including a double and two homers — to help jumpstart the Cubs' offense against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

It's that potential — and the fact that Soler just turned 24 in February — that explains why the Cubs aren't so quick to just bench Soler or give up on him in any form.

"That's absurd. If we had walked away from him last year, we probably don't get out of that Cardinals series," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He and (Kyle) Schwarber were our two best hitters in that series. He played a primary role in helping us win a couple of those games.

"That's how good he's capable of being, and you need to invest in him in order to help him get to that level on a more consistent basis. And you have to win games along the way. We have good problems to have."

Like Epstein said, the Cubs have proven they've placed an emphasis on winning now so they have to manage Soler's development with what's best for the entire team.

Still, the Cubs entered play Sunday 27-8 with a plus-110 run differential, one of the best starts the game has ever seen.

Epstein predicted Soler will get hot and carry the Cubs at some point like he did in the playoffs.

He also reminded everybody this is actually the normal development path for young players, referencing the Kansas City Royals' patience with guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon.

But Cubs fans and Chicago media have gotten a little spoiled of late, watching how guys like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Schwarber have been key contributors from the first second they stepped foot on a big league field.

"We have to be patient," Epstein said. "The fans have to be patient, too, because not everyone steps right in and wins the Rookie of the Year and takes off and puts up a .900 OPS.

"There are more variations of performance. It comes more sporadically. If you invest in young players over time, you get rewarded. His talent is there. It's undeniable. Look what he did against the best pitchers in the league at the most important time last year."

Soler's playing time has become a source of debate, too. Those who look at his numbers cry for the Cubs to bench him or send him back down to Triple-A Iowa.

There are also those who believe Soler's slump is at least partially due to inconsistent playing time with Bryant drawing a bunch of starts in left field.

Epstein and Maddon both acknowledged Soler would have plenty of opportunity to play as the season wears on, but Maddon also pointed to Soler's overall inexperience in professional baseball.

Soler has played in just 158 big league games and only 155 minor league games while battling injuries throughout his career. He also spent about two years where he didn't play much competitive baseball in defecting from Cuba before signing with the Cubs.

"His development has been spotty, in a sense, because of injuries," Maddon said. "He's shown flashes of brilliance. I guess from a fan's perspective or (media) asking me qeustions, I can understand where you're coming from.

"But from where I sit, it's very easy to see what the right thing to do is. I can't and I won't get caught up in that kind of rhetoric. It's about a young man developing. ... You just gotta keep throwing him out there until eventually it clicks and it will."

Maddon also has learned the need to be extra patient with young Latin players who are tasked with the culture shock of adjusting to life in a new country as well as learning a new language on top of developing on-field skills.

Soler admitted in spring training he had concentration and focus lapses last season but had no problem turning it on in the playoffs when the stakes were raised.

Maddon isn't willing to point to concentration issues as a reason for Soler's struggles this year.

"Actually, I think that's really done well," Maddon said. "He's done a lot of work with the hitting coaches, with our sports psych guys. If you watch him in the batter's box when he might not like something, he just takes the walk back and forth in the box (he doesn't get out of the box because that is a finable offense).

"Even that's a mindful moment for me right there. His self-awareness is growing. Of course you want to see more performance right now, but I know that's gonna be forthcoming. I'm not worried about that.

"He's really trying to do the right things and that matters a lot. You've got this 6-foot-5 behemoth, strong man, tremendous power, working on different things, making the adjustments to the United States. He'll figure it out."

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

Siera Santos, Kelly Crull, and David DeJesus go into the audio archives to break down the biggest games for the Cubs in Cincinnati.

David DeJesus gives us his top 3 ballgames with such gems as The Schwarber Game, The Kris Bryant Game, Starlin Castro’s debut, and Jake Arrieta’s second no hitter.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: