Cubs prospect Jorge Soler’s path to majors just got more complicated
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2013 10:34PM
GIANTS AT CUBS
The facts: 1:20 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Matt Cain (0-1, 8.38) vs. Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 1.35).
- A messy second outing for Cubs right-hander Scott Feldman
- 5-game suspension for Cubs prospect Jorge Soler in bat incident
- Cubs laugh off goat-head delivery at Wrigley Field
- TELANDER: Goat’s head delivered to Wrigley bizarre enough to be part of Cubs lore
- Giants score seven consecutive runs to clip Cubs 7-6
Updated: May 13, 2013 6:44AM
MVPs, Cy Young winners and World Series champs descended upon Wrigley Field on Thursday, and yet almost all of the Cubs’ attention was focused 1,000 miles away on a Class A player and the bat he (fortunately) didn’t swing.
As if we didn’t already know that the Cubs’ organization is all about the players in A-ball these days, $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler offered a frightening, bat-wielding reminder Wednesday night in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Soler, one of the top-rated and most visible prospects in the Cubs’ system, evoked visions of past Cubs knucklehead moments belonging to Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett when he grabbed a bat after a bench-clearing incident and stalked toward the opposing Clearwater dugout.
He was stopped by teammates before the incident could escalate and didn’t swing the bat.
But it cost him a five-game suspension and an undisclosed fine by the Florida State League — and an instant reputation as the next flawed big-shot Cubs prospect.
That’s the price of the big contract and the bigger hype. That’s the responsibility of the player and the organization when they enter a marriage like that.
At 21, Soler has a lot of time to turn Wednesday’s actions into an isolated incident and eventually shed the skepticism that will follow him from here.
Team president Theo Epstein said before Thursday’s 7-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants that nothing in the background work the club did on Soler in the year or so before they signed him suggested any red flags with his temperament.
And the Cuban defector, who didn’t play in an organized league for nearly two years before the Cubs signed him, was “tremendously remorseful” when team officials talked to him Thursday morning, Epstein said.
“This is a great kid,” he said, “who’s already overcome a lot in his life and someone we’re not worried about, at all, for the long haul. But it’s clear that he’s been thrust into a very high-profile situation very suddenly, and our job as an organization is to make sure he has the tools to make good decisions in the heat of the moment.”
Soler’s potential homesickness and culture shock already have been mitigated somewhat by the presence of his father, who has joined him in the United States.
Epstein also suggested the Cubs will step up the off-field support most players in the system already get in the wake of the incident that began with an altercation between Soler and Clearwater second baseman Carlos Alonso, then escalated into a bench-clearing situation that subsided without punches being thrown.
The fact that Soler grabbed a bat at that point and headed to the Clearwater bench — Soler explained that Alonso said something about his family, Epstein said — surprised Cubs players who spent much of spring training with him.
“When somebody told me that [Thursday morning], I said, ‘I don’t believe it,’ ” said shortstop Starlin Castro, who lockered next to Soler in camp. “What he showed me in spring training, he’s not that guy.”
But just in case anyone thought this foundation-for-sustained-success thing was going to be a smooth and easy process, the cautionary image can soon be found on YouTube, once somebody posts a facsimile of the video Epstein said he watched Thursday.
What’s certain is that the challenge of making his way to the big leagues just got more difficult for Soler, with even more baiting and scrutiny coming.
Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was a $10 million former Notre Dame football star when he began playing Class A ball seven years ago, said higher-profile players in the minors often get targeted from the outset.
“Without a doubt,” Samardzija said. “I felt like even when I was down there playing, they knew who I was from playing football, and they wanted to prove I shouldn’t be on the baseball field. So there’s definitely a chip on the shoulder of other guys that are trying to prove themselves, and maybe this is their fourth year in the minor leagues.
“You need to understand that you’re going to get everybody’s best, and you’re also going to get everybody’s worst. And you need to learn how to deal with both.”