By Bruce Levine–
ANAHEIM, Calif. (CBS) — Are the Chicago Cubs set to make a run at history? With a lineup that could have as many as nine potential All-Stars, one name keeps coming up as an unknown quantity.
Entering his second full season, 24-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler has been the great enigma on this team since coming to the big leagues in the late part of 2014.
Soler was signed during the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime’s first foray into the international free agent market in June 2012. The road hasn’t always been an easy one for the talented Soler. The tool set says future superstar, but the results to date have sent mixed reviews around the scouting industry.
Soler’s 125 games in his first year and a quarter at the big league level doesn’t give you much to sink your teeth into as a career track indicator. Furthermore, Soler has only played in 280 professional games. Let’s look at that again: 280 pro games.
The 101 games he played for the Cubs in 2015 were the most contests he had played in since starting his professional career in 2012. He batted .262 with 10 homers, 47 RBIs and a .723 OPS last season.
Maturity has seemed to be coming along for Soler, a Cuban native. He’s well-liked by his teammates. Always with a smile on his face, Soler has prospered under the guiding hand of manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff led by bench coach Dave Martinez.
“He is just the type of guy who is dripping with perception,” Maddon said. “He has the kind of body anyone is looking for in any major sport. He has a great arm and he runs well. You then have this prodigious power. There are a couple things working there. He is young and he is Latin. So you have to be a little bit patient here. Preston Gomez (longtime scout and former Cubs manager) impressed upon me to be patient with Latin players. Beyond the game itself, there are cultural differences and adjustments that need to be made. All these things factor in. He is going to be a really good player and he is still very young.”
Inexperienced would be a better way to describe Soler. The new culture and not having played many games since 2011 factor in big time here. Soler didn’t play baseball competitively for almost a year-and-a-half after defecting from Cuba. His agents held workouts for major league teams after he was granted a visa to the United States from Haiti. He signed a nine-year $30-million contract with the Cubs after shopping his skills to all of the major league teams.
Defensive play was a black hole for Soler in 2015. Martinez has worked tirelessly with him on outfield drills and visualizing plays and situations before they happen.
“He needs to be out there more often,” Maddon said. “I can see him see him getting more into things. I heard him say thank you at Starbucks. I thought that was a big step. All those things matter. When you are comfortable enough to use the language, in a matter you aren’t so conscious about it. I think he is arriving at that point.”
With Kyle Schwarber, Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward starting, Soler will most likely be used as a platoon left and right fielder and part-time DH in American League away games. Is he the same player who got on base a record nine straight times in the 2015 playoffs in his first nine postseason at-bats or the guy who was on pace for 200 strikeouts before landing on the DL twice last season?
The results should be fun to watch.
“He has really worked at,” Maddon said. “He has worked his butt off and done a great job. Davey (coach Martinez) and him spent a lot of time together this spring. I believe I saw a lot of improvement.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.