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Cubs’ future rests with Anthony Rizzo for now, Jorge Soler for later

Anthony Rizzo is gratified “get thmonkey off my back” by hitting his first home run. | Scott Halleran~Getty Images

Anthony Rizzo is gratified to “get that monkey off my back” by hitting his first home run. | Scott Halleran~Getty Images

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:47AM



So far, so good for Anthony ­Rizzo’s debut week with the Cubs.

With his first home run as a Cub on Saturday, the touted rookie got his second game-winning hit of the week in a 3-2 victory against the Houston Astros.

“It just feels good to get that win and get that monkey off my back to get that [first] homer,’’ he said.

It was his second career homer — his first was last season in his short stay with the San Diego Padres — and the big blow in a three-run fifth inning against J.A. Happ (6-8) that assured Matt Garza (4-6) the victory.

“He’s doing his thing, so let him enjoy it,’’ Garza said of Rizzo. “But this was a great team effort.’’

It featured sparkling defense with three double plays — including one turned by second baseman Darwin Barney to end an Astros threat in the fifth — and 32/3 innings of scoreless work from five relievers. Carlos Marmol closed it out with his seventh save.

Yet this season is about the future, and the team took another step toward tomorrow before the game with the biggest signing of Theo Epstein’s first year.

Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, 20, is off to Mesa, Ariz., for a personal “spring training’’ with a nine-year, $30 million contract the team hopes is an investment in future power.

“We think he’ll provide a ton of power potential to us,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We scouted him heavily, and obviously he’s a significant commitment for us. We feel he fits well into what we’re trying to do.

“He’s the right age, the right talent, and we’re excited to get him started.’’

Hope and excitement is all there is for now. Hoyer admitted there are no projections on how quickly Soler could make it to the majors.

“Let’s get him in games first,’’ Hoyer said. “But he’s 20 years old. One thing his agents did a good job of was getting him in games in the Dominican Republic [after Soler defected from Cuba]. It wasn’t just a showcase thing. We’re hopeful that’s a harbinger of good things, but it’s hard to tell until he gets into games.’’

The Cubs outbid the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers for the rights to the Cuban outfielder, who left his homeland in 2011 with sights set on a major-league career after playing for the Cuban national team as a teen.

Manager Dale Sveum has seen Soler, who is 6-3 and 205 pounds, only on video.

“You can go on and on about body types, but he is like a Glenn Braggs, and that kind of strength at that young age is pretty impressive,’’ Sveum said. “Hopefully it can translate into success at this level.’’

Soler is considered years away from the majors, though some scouts said he would have been a top-10 pick had he been in the amateur draft in June.

The Cubs had until Monday to sign Soler before new rules on signing international players cap contracts at $2.9 million annually.

Soler and Rizzo are cornerstones for the Cubs’ new management. But another piece, first-round draft pick Albert Almora, might not be a fit. The team has until July 13 to sign the 18-year-old outfielder, who has said he might take advantage of his full scholarship to Miami. Almora is represented by Scott Boras.

“There’s dialog,’’ Hoyer said. “We’re optimistic, but ­beyond that, we’re not going to characterize the discussions.’’



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