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Cuban prospect Jorge Soler: Cubs si, Yankees no

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TONIGHT

TIGERS AT CUBS

The facts: 7:05, CSN, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Jaul Maholm (4-5, 5.10) vs. Max Scherzer (5-4, 5.88).

THE REST OF THE SERIES

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., Ch. 26, 720-AM. Matt Garza (2-4, 3.99) vs. Rick Porcello (3-4, 5.03).

Thursday: 1:20 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Travis Wood (0-2, 4.71) vs. Justin Verlander (5-4, 2.69).

Updated: July 13, 2012 6:22AM



This was the guy the Cubs wanted even before Anthony Rizzo was on their radar, a guy they wanted last fall even more than the heavily hyped Yoenis Cespedes. He already might define this first year of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime.

By landing touted Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler on Monday, the Cubs took what looks like the biggest of their first three major steps in restocking the system with impact prospects. They might even have given fans a reason to think the ugly results at the big-league level could yet pay off.

The physically mature, 6-3 Soler, 20, immediately becomes Epstein’s biggest free-agent signing since he took over, regardless of the size of the reported nine-year, $30 million deal.

Whether he’s a bigger impact prospect than near-ready slugger Rizzo, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres in January for Andrew Cashner, or No. 6 overall draft pick Albert Almora remains to be played out over the next two or three years as Soler and Almora develop in the minors.

For now, that debate is exactly the point as the front office looks for as many ways as possible to acquire elite prospects for its vision of an eventual home-grown core that can lead a contender —like the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees of the last 15-20 years or the Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays or even Boston Red Sox more recently.

In addition to taking a top high school outfield prospect, Almora, in last week’s draft, the Cubs also took two pitchers in the supplemental first round.

All that’s left to do in the next few months is work the non-waiver trading season for a trade or two that can net some prospect value for veterans and, perhaps, chase down San Diego for the worst record in the majors and top spot in next year’s draft.

In the meantime, it’s hard to overestimate what it means to the new regime’s plans to beat out the Yankees for Soler, not only because it succeeded in landing the first big international free agent it targeted upon taking over, but also because the timing of new restrictions on amateur spending will make Soler’s deal the last of its kind.

In three weeks, limits take effect that will prohibit teams from spending more than $2.9 million annually on their entire international free-agent pool. Restrictions on draft spending already severely limited the Cubs’ original intentions of pouring money into tough-to-sign picks deep into the draft to more quickly stock the farm system.

Soler, who defected from Cuba last year, hasn’t played a high level of organized ball since 2010 with the Cuban national team in the world junior tournament as he worked out residency issues.

He was only made eligible to sign this month, at which point teams that had been hovering, working him out and wining and dining him for months lined up for an accelerated bidding process.

The Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers were considered the biggest competition for the Cubs, who were considered the favorites since November.

Cubs officials won’t comment on Soler until they make an official announcement sometime in the next day or so when all the details, such as physicals, are completed.

But they have privately raved for months about Soler’s raw skills, including a strong arm, good speed and enough strength to be a potential power threat.

Despite comparisons to Oakland Athletics outfielder Cespedes, who signed over the winter, Soler likely won’t have the sheer power and isn’t considered a big-league center fielder. But he has shown strike-zone awareness, and he’s six years younger.

Talent evaluators inside and outside the organization have rated him as equivalent to a top-10 — some say top-five — draft pick.

Team insiders salivate at the possibility of Rizzo anchored at first base with an outfield in the near future of homegrown talents Soler, Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur.

Add last year’s top pick, Javier Baez, to an infield with Starlin Castro and possibly the fast-rising Junior Lake, and the vision of high-quality, versatile, left-right, power-speed talent in the lineup begins to emerge — even with the inevitable misses that will come within this group.



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