The Jorge Soler Watch begins now


The Jorge Soler Watch begins now

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).

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

The Cubs and Orioles reliever Zach Britton are once again being linked to each other, according to Patrick Mooney of the Athletic

Despite the front office denying any big moves coming before the July 31st deadline, but the Cubs' interest in Britton from last year makes this one with the Orioles stick a bit more. And when taking a look at Britton's fit on the club, a deal involving the lefty-reliever makes too much sense not to be true. 

And according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Orioles are trying to wrap up the trade in the next few days. 

The Cubs did add reliever Jesse Chavez earlier this week, but Chavez profiles more as a swingman and less of the late-inning arm Britton has been over his eight-year career. Due to injuries, Zach Britton isn't the guy who teams saw dominant in '15 &'16 when he saved a combined 134 games for the Orioles. 

However, his 2018 numbers are encouraging for a guy coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon with a 3.68 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. And when you factor in the pedigree the Cubs would be adding to the back end of the bullpen on top of his expiring deal at the end of 2018, it would make the Cubs bullpen lethal in the postseason. 

There will be other suitors for Britton who could likely offer more in terms of prospects in return, but if the Cubs are serious about adding someone like Britton, they could always dip into their MLB roster and part with a Victor Caratini-type player. Infielder David Bote has also impressed with his surprise season, showing he can contribute in multiple roles. 

But the Cubs would be solving essentially two issues with one guy in Britton, with his ability to close and experience in late-inning situations while also replacing Mike Montgomery in the bullpen, who may be staying in the rotation longer than expected. He's also an upgrade over Brian Duensing, who has been ineffective this season, and Randy Rosario who seems more like smoke and mirrors and has never pitched in the postseason. 

Jed Hoyer did say earlier this week the Cubs will be adding depth before the trade deadline, but the asking price for arguably the best available reliever remaining on the market could end up being too rich for the Cubs to stomach. But it clearly won't stop them from at least weighing all options.