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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”