Editor's note: The sooner the Chicago Cubs hire a new manager, the sooner he can get a look at the team's top prospects. That's what Jesse Rogers is doing this week as he takes in a few days of Arizona Fall League action.
MESA, Ariz. -- It's as if Cubs prospect Jorge Soler keeps having to start his career over again. Just as he was getting needed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League -- after missing so much time in 2013 -- Soler had to leave the Mesa Solar Sox for "residency" issues. Soler, a Cuban defector, will be back at the end of the week, so there's plenty of time to find his groove again. But according to a consensus of scouts watching fall ball, he has work to do.
"He's kind of raw for me," one scout said. "His bat speed isn't there."
"Raw" was a word that described Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012, before injuries and other setbacks practically ruined his 2013 season in the minors. He's far from a lost cause, but he has fallen behind other prospects mostly because of a foot injury that kept him in a walking boot for most of the second half of his minor league season.
"He's getting into baseball shape," Cubs Triple-A hitting coach Brian Harper said. "He wasn't running as he normally does. He was a little tentative. Now he's starting to run better and feels better."
Harper is one of the coaches for the Mesa Solar Sox, where Soler is hitting .229 with nine strikeouts and zero walks. His plate discipline was a plus during spring training this past February and March, so he needs to find that again. Harper understands what the scouts are seeing right now.
"I've spent time with him the last couple of weeks," Harper said. "He's a good kid who works hard and loves the game. At times when he doesn't do well, he feels a little embarrassed, and his body language might portray some of the things they are saying. That's not him at all."
Soler had a rocky year at Class A Daytona. Days into the 2013 season, he was suspended five games for charging the opposing dugout with a bat after being upset at personal comments directed his way. Not long after his return, he was benched for not hustling. Then his season ended in June because of a stress fracture in his left foot, but he put up some decent numbers with a .281 batting average and eight home runs in 210 at-bats.
After finally getting healthy for the fall league -- he leads the team in at-bats -- he has left for several days. It has been stop and start all year, and that has affected him.
"He's not the player I saw in spring training," one scout said. "I know he was hurt, but he just looks different."
The Arizona Fall League attracts many scouts, as teams send their top prospects for six more weeks of baseball. And while the consensus has been positive for other Cubs prospects such as Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, Soler has left question marks in the minds of the scouts. Those three, along with Javier Baez, are the main cornerstones in the system for the Cubs' rebuilding plan. Soler has had the roughest go of the four. Harper chalks it up to the lack of playing time.
"We need to get him as many at-bats as we can," he said. "He'll get it back."
But first he has to come back. And start over again.