Updated: August 26, 2014 11:29PM
CINCINNATI — Who knows what the Cubs will have to challenge the rest of the National League next year? But they’re on the verge of finding out quickly, say guys in the clubhouse awaiting the big-league debut of $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler on Wednesday.
‘‘You’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,’’ cornerstone first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘It’s a smart move to get him up here and get him a solid five weeks to play — just like Javy [Baez]. Hopefully it overwhelms him a lot and he goes into the offseason knowing what he needs to work on, his strengths and weaknesses.’’
Rizzo, who hit his 30th homer in the first inning of Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, has been the strongest clubhouse advocate of bringing up the Cubs’ best prospects as soon as possible to let them sink or swim.
Guys such as Baez, who struck out four more times Tuesday but also has seven homers in his first 21 games (to go with 40 Ks). And guys such as Arismendy Alcantara, who added a two-run homer in the seventh off All-Star Reds starter Johnny Cueto (15-8).
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he expects Soler to play right field Wednesday and bat fifth or sixth in his debut. He’ll be the eighth player to make his debut with the Cubs this season.
Rizzo said the timing is ideal for putting so many of the Cubs’ fledgling prospects together in the majors ahead of September roster expansion. They’ll be playing in games that matter, with 24 of the final 31 coming against NL Central rivals.
‘‘It’s good that everyone’s going to see these guys,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘If we’re going to do anything in the near future, we need to take care of our division first, because that’s how you stay in the race. And you want to be contending this time next year.’’
That’s a big expectation for a team on its way to a fifth consecutive losing season. And it’s going to take a lot more than Soler and Baez.
‘‘There’s more guys coming up,’’ said Baez, who spent about two weeks as Soler’s Class AAA teammate before his own debut three weeks ago and believes the power-hitting outfielder is ready. ‘‘The team keeps getting better.’’
Notes: Shortstop Starlin Castro had two hits in his return from five games on bereavement leave.
‘‘It’s a really tough time, man,’’ said Castro, who spent time with family in the Dominican Republic after losing close friends and family in a car accident there last week. ‘‘The only guy that knows [why] is God. He knows how things happen. . . . I’m all right.’’
◆ Cubs starter Travis Wood (8-11) snapped a string of 12 winless starts with six effortless-looking innings before Renteria inexplicably hooked him after 96 pitches.
◆ Rosters for the prestigious Arizona Fall League were announced, with seven Cubs named, including Baseball America’s No. 5 prospect, shortstop Addison Russell. Joining him are right-hander C.J. Edwards, first baseman Dan Vogelbach, lefty Gerardo Concepcion, outfielder Jacob Hannemann and right-handers Zach Cates and Ivan Pineyro.
◆ Rizzo left the game on a double switch in the eighth as a precaution because of tightness in his lower back. It wasn’t considered serious.
◆ Tuesday’s 50-minute rain delay in the first made for 16 Cubs games delayed by rain this season (total of 22 hours, 46 minutes). Six have been against the Reds.
◆ Right-fielder Ryan Sweeney left the game with a hamstring injury after running out a grounder in the second.