Soler looking to replenish stock after bat incident, injury
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter February 26, 2014 10:20PM
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Updated: February 26, 2014 11:04PM
MESA, Ariz. — You don’t hear a lot about Jorge Soler anymore. Not the way you did a year ago when he was driving home-run balls past TV trucks in distant lots. Not like when he signed that
$30 million deal with the Cubs in 2012.
Not unless it has something to do with going after an opponent with a bat on a humid April night in Florida. Or the stress fracture in his leg that ended his season and made him look like he was dogging it during Arizona Fall League play (on orders from the staff to take it easy running).
For all the hype and expectations surrounding the Cubs’ brightest prospects, the only certainty when it comes to these things is they won’t all make it. That’s something Cubs brass from team president Theo Epstein to player-development boss Jason McLeod often remind the drooling media and public.
Unfair or not, Soler is the guy whose stock has fallen most when sizing up the likelihood of success among the Cubs’ Big Four prospects (including Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora).
“There’s no discipline with that guy,” said one veteran scout who saw a lot of Soler at high-A Daytona last season and in the fall league. “He has athletic ability out the [wazoo]. But he can’t hit a breaking ball to save his life, and he tries to pull everything. And his attitude sucks. He needs to do a little growing up.”
The scout was there when Soler returned from suspension after the bat-wielding incident only to toss his bat in anger after a pop-up and get benched for a game.
Soler, who turned 22 this week, said he doesn’t listen to the critics or worry about the doubters.
“I keep the same routine every day, keep my head up and give 100 percent on the field,” he said through coach Franklin Font, who helped translate.
He knows that incident, in which he was restrained before any harm was done, hurt his reputation but has no idea how long it will take to overcome perceptions. He doesn’t plan to dwell on it.
“I will be the same every day, with a smile on the field,” said Soler, whose bat saga was just part of a steep acclimation process in his first full year in the United States after defecting from Cuba.
If there is a perception problem with Soler, that’s the problem of those judging him from the outside, said Almora, one of Soler’s best friends in the organization and a former roommate.
“What people are saying about him right now, that’s for them to say, but, at least in my eyes, he’s one of the best guys in this organization,” Almora said. “He’s phenomenal. The guy hits the ball 950 feet. And he’s faster, stronger, better right now [than a year ago].
“He’s one of the best guys out there, man. He’s quiet, jokes around, has a lot of fun. He’s like an older brother to me.”
Almora, the wiser-than-19 outfielder from Miami, was one of those who talked to Soler after the highly publicized incident that might not be considered as shocking in Cuba.
“He learned from it, he understood,” said Almora, echoing what Soler said.
If anything, the injury that cost him more than half the season had a bigger impact.
“This year’s a big year for me,” he said as he tries to make up for lost time.
He might have a head start with the fresh eyes of a new manager, Rick Renteria, who compared Soler to Ken Griffey Jr. at the same age in “physicality” and body type.
Renteria called Soler an “active” player on the field, whose personality comes across as “very, very calm. I don’t think pressure affects him very much.”
Reminded of the bat incident, Renteria said, “I wasn’t there; I couldn’t tell you. But from what I’ve seen, he’s very composed. Maybe that’s a sign of maturity.”
Soler said he feels much different and more comfortable after a full year in the United States.
“I feel more mature and disciplined,” he said.