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).