MESA, Ariz. -- Their playing time has been sparse and their days in big league camp might be dwindling, but that doesn’t mean the “Big 4” haven’t had their moments. In fact, first-round picks Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, along with Cuban signee Jorge Soler, have all stood out at one time or another. Before they leave us for their minor league destinations, let’s examine how the future of the Cubs has looked so far.
Javier Baez: .333 (6 for 18), 2 doubles, 2 HRs, 2 RBIs, 0 BBs, 3 Ks
Expected to start at Triple-A Iowa
He’s handled everything well enough so far that the Cubs feel comfortable moving him around the diamond as they said they would during the winter. Early in camp Baez set a goal for himself to hit the ball to the right side when needed and he’s done that. He took an outside fastball over the fence in right field for one of his two home runs and he’s continued to show better plate discipline despite not earning a walk. He’s helped turn three double plays while making a team-leading 18 assists at shortstop with no errors. All he has to do to make it to the big leagues is keep up this kind of progress, but everyone knows the Cubs won’t want to start his “clock” too soon. If he’s up before late June or early July it’s because he forced his way to Wrigley Field with his play. Plus, watching him swing a bat -- it’s vicious -- is entertainment in itself.
Jorge Soler: .250 (2 for 8), 1 triple, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 1 CS
Expected to start at Double-A Tennessee
He’s had a quieter camp than a year ago with just eight at-bats, but his signature moment helped win the Cubs a game last Friday over the Los Angeles Angels. A two-out, ninth-inning triple drove in the game-winning run in a 3-2 victory. Soler remains a physical specimen waiting to be unleashed. Last spring he may have actually been ahead of Baez as an overall hitter -- and his plate discipline could arguably be the best of the four prospects -- but he’s still raw. That’s mostly due to injuries from a year ago and still learning the game. It’s not necessarily that he’s “behind” the other three, it just seems like his progress has been slower due to his rough 2013, which included a suspension. He needs every-day at-bats for several months as much as anyone does. He’ll get that soon at Double-A Tennessee.
Albert Almora: .556 (5 for 9), 1 double, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 2 Ks
Expected to start at Single-A Daytona
He’s the smallest of the Big 4, but the ball jumps off his bat with the best of them. His .556 batting average leads the team and while Kris Bryant gets accolades for his swift learning curve considering his time in college, Almora’s baseball IQ is seemingly off the charts. On Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies he got ahead of the pitcher 2-0, and after a mound visit, he jumped on the next pitch down the middle for a line shot to left field. The Cubs may want to think about keeping him together with Bryant at Double-A as the two have become close but if he stays healthy -- his stated goal -- he should join the Smokies in Tennessee by June at the latest.
Kris Bryant: .222 (2 for 9), 2 HRs, 4 RBIs, 1 BB, 6 Ks
Expected to start at Double-A Tennessee
His first spring training has had its ups and downs as evidenced by the two home runs and six strikeouts, but Bryant is a sponge when it comes to learning. For a player his age, Cubs insiders say he knows his swing as well as most veterans. His signature moment came in his first at-bat of the second game of the spring. He jacked a 3-2 pitch to deep dead center field against the Los Angeles Angels after fouling several pitches off to stay alive. The ball was absolutely crushed. He says he needs to work on hitting the low strikes as that’s where pitchers will attack the 6-5 righty. He does have an error at third base but otherwise has shown good footwork. He lamented a slow roller he couldn’t get to recently, as charging the ball and throwing on the run will be a play he’ll need to work on at his size.