MESA, Ariz. -– The young stud prospects of the Chicago Cubs have about a week left to impress manager Dale Sveum before they’re sent to minor league camp. shortstop Javier Baez and outfielder Jorge Soler have shown flashes of why they were No. 1 picks and given nine-year contracts, respectively, but it’s time for reality to take hold.
“They are so raw they just have to play so many more baseball games before they’re ready for this kind of big league pitching every day,” Sveum said. “Soler has been impressive to where he doesn’t just go up there swinging. He has a pretty good idea. His poise in the outfield, for not playing a lot of games, it’s pretty impressive.”
Baez has more to learn playing a tougher position, but his baseball instincts are obvious even from having watched him only a handful of times. The Cubs have split-squad games next weekend in Arizona and Las Vegas; after that, the roster will be cut down.
Baez has a .318 batting average and .348 on-base percentage going into Saturday’s Cactus League contest against the Indians. Soler has five doubles and a .381 on-base percentage but has struck out nine times, second most on the team. Sveum was asked whether either has a chance at a September call-up from the minors.
“See what happens and the production this year, but personally I don’t see it happening in September,” he responded.
Sveum said the front office will decide where the two would play beyond spring training. Best estimations have them starting in Class A Daytona.
Thanks to rain that fell all day Friday and cold and wet conditions Saturday, Sveum said most of the injured Cubs who are close to returning will wait until at least Wednesday before getting back in the lineup.
There’s still no timetable for Matt Garza’s return from a lat injury.
Like most in baseball, Dale Sveum had only good things to say about New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who announced his retirement on Saturday, effective after this season. They were teammates on the Yankees in 1998, but in 1999 Sveum faced Rivera for the only time, in a spring training game, when the former was with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I stood on the plate, normally, but I said ‘I’m going to get way off the plate,’” Sveum recalled. “Saw the first one and I was like ‘whoa,’ then I was just like ‘I’m just swinging,’ (he) still broke my bat, but I blooped it into center for a single.”
Sveum tried to explain Rivera’s infamous cutter pitch.
“Your mind registers a four-seam fastball, but it’s cutting like a slider,” he stated. “It’s an interesting pitch you just never really see as a hitter. You just don’t see that velocity that looks like a four-seamer and can move that far. Just a unique pitch. and as far as I know there was only one player that was ever able to master it.”
The Cubs were none too pleased with having to travel the nearly hour ride to Goodyear, Ariz., on Friday to play the Cincinnati Reds only to have the game called after an inning and a half. It had rained all day, and spring training fields –- especially in normally dry Arizona –- don’t drain nearly as well as the major league diamonds.
“I don’t think it should have, but I wasn’t looking at the radar at the time,” Sveum said. “I talked to the groundskeeper after the first half inning, and he said it isn’t stopping. It was kind of a tough trip.”
The game won’t be made up.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com