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Top prospects Soler, Baez making Cubs’ future look bright

Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler plays during spring training baseball game against Colorado Rockies MesAriz. Wednesday March 13 2013.

Chicago Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler plays during a spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies in Mesa, Ariz. Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

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Updated: March 19, 2013 1:04PM



PEORIA, Ariz. — Alfonso Soriano doesn’t have to look far to see how the Cubs — if not the times — have passed him by barely six years after he signed the mega-contract that made him the biggest free agent in Cubs history.

He just needs to look about 10 feet over his shoulder in the clubhouse to see the future of the team, the keys to the next playoff run, a core he says could come together at the big-league level as soon as next year.

That’s where top prospects Javy Baez and Jorge Soler occupy lockers in a four-man cluster that also includes young All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.

“Both guys are very impressive — especially Baez, what he did was very amazing,” Soriano said. “From what I’ve seen in spring training, if they continue what they’re doing, I think next year they have a chance to make the team.”

Those are especially lofty projections for a shortstop and outfielder headed to minor-league camp Tuesday to prepare for their Class A season at Daytona.

Whether that would move up the Cubs’ competitive timeline, it would at least offer a first glimpse at what that next competitive core is supposed to look like — including Castro, Anthony Rizzo, presumably Welington Castillo and Darwin Barney.

That’s how well the pair backed up the immense hype they carried into their first big-league camps.

Baez hit four home runs in the span of seven pitches, including a called shot, a few hours after he was told Friday that he was getting cut.

“I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and that’s what happened,” Baez said, shrugging off the timing as well as the accomplishment.

Well-traveled veteran pitcher Edwin Jackson, who was in Tampa Bay when a wave of young impact players suddenly took a long-struggling franchise to the World Series in 2008, is reluctant to add to the hyperbole for players who haven’t had a chance to develop.

But he seems to like the chances of this team getting a lot better during the four years he signed up for as a free agent this winter.

“There’s a lot of dudes in camp that have that ‘wow’ factor. A lot of young guys coming up that everybody knows about — that everybody knows are going to be great players,” he said when asked about Baez and Soler. Baez helped Jackson Monday against the San Diego Padres with a leaping snare of a line drive to end the third.

Baez, ranked 16th among prospects in the two most prominent lists, could be a season of breaking-ball lessons away from a possible debut in September if some projections are right.

Soler, a Cuban defector who hadn’t played for a team for nearly two years when the Cubs signed him to a nine-year, $30 million deal last summer, might need a little more seasoning

Soriano, the veteran left fielder who badly wants the pair to progress to the big leagues during his tenure, knows he’s watching the Cubs evolve into something radically different than the big-market, big-spending, win-big-now club he joined in 2007.

“I think how baseball has changed, how the world has changed,” said Soriano, who has seen three different managers, five hitting coaches, three pitching coaches, two general managers and a new team president (Theo Epstein), a position that didn’t exist before the fall of 2011.

“What I see now is that the teams that have the big names, they don’t win.”

He says he’s talking about hitters. And points out that the San Francisco Giants have won two World Series in the last three years after winning zero with big-money free agents Barry Bonds and J.T. Snow or big-money Jeff Kent (who was acquired in a trade).

Even when it’s pointed out that the Giants have paid their pitchers well, Soriano points out that Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are homegrown Giants. So are starters Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez. And even free agent Ryan Vogelsong was originally drafted by the Giants.

“They’re not free agents,’’ said a guy sounding a lot like the last of a dying breed. “If you play good at the right time, with the young guys, you can do something.

“In 2007 and 2008, we had a very good team, with veteran guys, big contracts, and we made the playoffs for two years,’’ Soriano said of a team built largely on a $300 million spending spree before the 2007 season. “After that the team [declined].’

He looks in the direction of Baez and Soler as Castro walks toward his locker.

“But I think now with all these young guys that have all this talent, I think that we’re not far away.”

CUBS 5, PADRES 2

ACTION JACKSON: Edwin Jackson turned in the top pitching performance of the, throwing 76 pitches in a six-inning start and allowing one run on a two-out hit by pitcher Clayton Richard. “Just trying to progress as the spring goes on,” said Jackson, who has one more start before a final, tapered-down tuneup for his season debut April 3 in Pittsburgh. “You’re just trying to get closer to game mode as we get closer to the end of March and just try to keep the ball rolling in a positive direction right into the season.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Right fielder Jorge Soler and shortstop Javy Baez — who are expected to start the season with advanced Class A Daytona — batted third and fourth on their last day of big-league camp in a possible preview of future seasons. They were hitless on the eve of their departure to minor-league camp, but Baez drove in a run with a hot grounder that caromed off the third baseman. He also leaped to snare a liner, robbing Alexi Amarista of a hit in the third inning.

DAWG POUNDING: His alma mater (Washington) didn’t make the cut for the NCAA tournament, but utility man Brent Lillibridge is alive and well in his bid to survive and advance into the season opener. Having played every position but catcher and pitcher this spring, Lillibridge also is one of the hottest hitters in camp. He’s 8-for-14 with five extra-base hits since returning last week from a groin injury, including 2-for-4 with a triple against the Padres.

ON DECK: Rangers at Cubs, HoHokam Stadium, 3:05 p.m. (live audio at cubs.com), Chris Rusin (2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 13 spring innings) vs. Alexi Ogando.

Gordon Wittenmyer



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