Cubs will face some interesting decisions with Jorge Soler


Cubs will face some interesting decisions with Jorge Soler

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jorge Soler’s name will almost certainly surface in trade rumors if – or when – the Cubs need to make a deal for pitching this summer.

The Cubs can’t afford to hand Soler 600 at-bats, let him learn on the job and hope he becomes more fluid in the outfield, the way they nurtured other young players during their rebuilding cycle.

Not when manager Joe Maddon has all these other options and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was asked on Opening Day if this year will be judged a failure if the Cubs don’t win the World Series.

Soler as the designated hitter made sense for the season’s first two games against the Los Angeles Angels – so the Cubs could get him into a rhythm – and maybe even for his long-term future if an American League team can see the potential and offer the right kind of young pitcher.

“He’s not going to get lost,” Maddon said Tuesday at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “I think you know me by now – it’s not about getting hits. He’s going to play – and he’s going to play well – during the course of the season.

“For him personally, the confidence component is really big.”

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The surprise Dexter Fowler signing in late February clearly impacted Soler, who got bumped from right field on the depth chart when Gold Glover Jason Heyward moved over from center. That puts Soler in a left-field timeshare with Kyle Schwarber on a team that has multiple players who can play multiple positions and wanted to upgrade the overall defense after getting swept by the New York Mets in last year’s National League Championship Series.

“He’s going to be more comfortable (in right field), no doubt,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing you have to remember when you’re playing on the corners is the ball is always going to move to the line.

“That’s the thing you just got to try to get a guy to understand. So in right field, he’s used to the ball going that way. Now all of a sudden, the ball’s going to go that way. A lefty’s going to slice it, a righty’s going to hook.

“If he can just get that (part down). It’s an easy thought, but how do you actually do it? I think as he wraps his mind around (that) on a consistent basis, he may end up being as comfortable as he was in right field.”

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There are pitching-rich teams like the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves that were interested in Soler when the Cubs gave the raw Cuban player a nine-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2012 (though both franchises have since seen a restructuring in baseball leadership).

But the Cubs also saw what Soler did in a pressure situation last year, becoming the first player in major-league history to reach base safely in his first nine postseason plate appearances. That dynamic performance helped eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round.

“He’s the kind of guy that is just dripping with projection,” Maddon said. “It’s the kind of body everybody’s looking for in any major sport. He’s got a great arm. He runs well. I think you got this prodigious power. So if you’re a scout, there are a couple things working there.

“You describe the body and the power, but he’s young and he’s Latin, so you have to be a little bit patient here. Beyond the adjustment to the game itself is the cultural differences and the cultural adjustments that need to be made that can hold you back, whether it’s just socially or self-esteem-wise by being unable to communicate your thoughts as you would like.

“All these things factor in. So when it comes to young Latin players – especially a kid from Cuba – I think you have to be even a little bit more patient. He’s going to be a really good player and he’s still very young.”

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The Cubs also hope Soler, 24, will benefit from the coincidental return of hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, who skipped spring training because of family commitments and then joined the team in Southern California.

“Manny’s a very informed and good hitting coach,” Maddon said. “I’m not just talking about physical (stuff). Everybody (says): ‘Oh, you put your hands here.’ Manny talks hitting really well, and he talks to the mental mechanics more.

“That’s what really benefited Georgie last year. And I like (Manny’s) matter-of-factness – not just trying to make the kid like him. He’s trying to give him good information.”

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Before the Cubs hosted the San Francisco Giants on Day 2 of American Legion Week, Willson Contreras was out in left field running and working out his injured right hamstring.

The All-Star catcher hit the injured list earlier this month after hitting a line drive to the gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

That was two-and-a-half weeks ago and the Cubs initially tabbed the Grade-2 hamstring strain as a roughly four-week timeline. But team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday Contreras is not nearing a rehab stint.

"He's in what our trainers are calling the aggressive strengthening phase of his rehab, which is building up the hamstring strength now that he's gotten through the initial injury," Epstein said. "Always what comes with that is the strength deficit that you have to really be mindful of building back up so that you don't risk reinjuring it when you get back to full baseball activities. 

"You're gonna see him on the field a lot more over the next few days and hopefully soon he'll be progressing to baseball activities. He's not on the cusp of starting a rehab assignment or anything like that. He hasn't really progressed to baseball activities yet, so that will be the next step."

The minor-league season wraps up in the first couple days of September, so Contreras won't have much of an opportunity to get game at-bats and innings at catcher if he isn't able to head on a rehab stint soon.

But the Cubs won't rush it with one of their most important players. Contreras was hitting .275 with 19 homers, 57 RBI and an .890 OPS in 87 games before the injury.

In his absence, the Cubs have been pretty well covered with Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy splitting duties behind the dish.

Lucroy - acquired Aug. 8 after being released by the Los Angeles Angels - is hitting .333 with a .798 OPS in 7 games and has impressed with his work as a game-caller and veteran presence. Caratini continues to put up quality at-bats while building on his breakout campaign.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Cubs' triumphant return home

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Cubs' triumphant return home

Luke Stuckmeyer and Fred Mitchell join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Doug Glanville joins the guys to discuss the Cubs' triumphant return home, Nicholas Castellanos and the importance of the starting rotation over the rest of the season.

11:00- Scott Podsednik drops by to talk about another dominant performance by Lucas Giolito. Could the Sox contend next season after taking a series from another division leader?

17:30- Tony Andracki joins Kap from Wrigley Field with the latest on Ben Zobrist's return and if Brandon Morrow's shutdown will have any impact on the Cubs' bullpen.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast