CHICAGO -- After Tuesday night’s announcement that Jorge Soler would be promoted from Double-A to Triple-A, the discussion immediately turned to whether the scorching hot prospect was ticketed for Wrigley Field this September.
Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein would not say if Soler might be headed for a big league call-up when rosters expand.
“We’re not going to make any decisions now, nor are we going to talk about possible promotions,” Epstein said. “[We’ll] just let it play out.”
Epstein did admit Soler’s presence on the 40-man roster would make a decision less complicated.
“The 40-man is always a real consideration when it comes to promotions,” Epstein said. “If a player is already on the 40 or has to be added to the roster this winter to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, it just makes it a lot easier to call him up than if you have to prematurely add a player to the 40-man just for September. Sometimes that makes roster management in the winter very, very difficult.”
Though Epstein wouldn’t elaborate any further than that, multiple sources close to the situation indicated the decision to bring up Soler this season is strongly being considered. While nothing has been finalized and the ultimate decision will be made by Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, the team's VP of player development and amateur scouting, there are strong indications that a September debut is in the works for Soler.
Soler’s contract is not that of the average minor leaguer. Not only is he on the 40-man roster, service time considerations are not an issue for him.
The slugging outfielder demolished Double-A pitching to the tune of .415/.494/.862 with six home runs and nine doubles in just 22 games prior to his promotion to Iowa. Having played just 118 games in parts of three seasons in the Cubs system -- and keep in mind, he hadn’t been playing organized baseball for nearly a year when he signed with the Cubs -- playing time is the biggest issue for Soler. Health is another issue, as the muscular righty missed much of last season with a broken foot and has seen limited time this season due to multiple hamstring issues.
When the minor league season ends after August and rosters expand in September, it makes perfect sense for the Cubs to bring Soler up to Wrigley.
Though scouts had concerns after watching Soler’s iffy performance last year in the Arizona Fall League, it seems his play of late has helped him win back the doubters. In his short time this season, Soler has identified spin like an advanced player and controls the zone well.
There was a time that Soler wanted to over swing, trying to send every pitch as far as possible. But it appears he’s staying within himself better, realizing his natural swing and strength generates enough power to hit the ball hard and drive it a long distance.
Some talent evaluators have said they believe Soler will thrive when presented with the challenge of facing major league pitching a little earlier than expected.
The two things to watch closely over the next five weeks with Soler are his health and how he handles Triple-A pitching. If he continues to show the advanced bat he has displayed throughout his career in the Cubs system, then a September arrival should be on the horizon.
The Cubs also recently made the decision to give shortstop Javier Baez playing time at second base at Triple-A Iowa, a move many believed was a precursor to an eventual call-up to the big league club this season.
When talking to the media on Tuesday, Hoyer seemed to pour cold water on those rumors, pointing out that a position change didn’t indicate that a promotion was on the horizon. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not an option the front office is considering.
In Baez’s case, some would suggest that development may trump the always bothersome service time issues that pop up with top prospects.
If the Cubs were to wait until late April 2015 to call up Baez, they’d be guaranteed an extra year of control. However, there are those within the organization who believe that Baez’s development would be greatly aided by facing major league pitching sooner rather than later.
As Baez has moved up through the upper levels of the minor leagues, he has shown that he needs a little more time to adjust to advanced pitchers, at least when compared to fellow top prospect Kris Bryant, who has proven to have the ability to adjust much quicker to pitchers than the average player.
Getting Baez a taste of big league pitching in September would help him have a better idea of what he’s in store for in 2015, with the hopes of the impact potential he has showing up earlier in the season than if he were to get his first major league experience late next April.
Add in that Baez appears to have fully adjusted to Triple-A pitching (he has a slash line of .303/.355/568 in his past 63 games after starting the season with a rough .142/.229/.255 line) and his defense has improved by leaps and bounds from last season (just 11 errors so far compared to 44 in 2013), and a promotion makes perfect sense developmentally.
Epstein pointed out that there were many factors in deciding whether Baez warrants a look later this season, one of which is whether the value of getting him major league at-bats outweighs the restrictions the team may face by having to add him to the 40-man roster.
“This is a big picture issue and there are so many considerations,” Epstein said. “We’ll focus on it more in the end of August and also look to the offseason.
“Because of the 40-man issues, you have to factor in what a player might get out of a call-up versus what it means for the organization as a whole not being able to add a player in the winter because of 40-man issues. Kyle Hendricks had to be added to the 40-man this winter, so it made it a lot easier to for us to call him up now. [Arismendy] Alcantara already on the 40-man made it a lot easier to take the step of promoting a player.”
For Cubs fans clamoring for the future they’ve been promised will finally arrive, the hopes of more glimpses appears to be closer to reality than many expected.
Alcantara and Hendricks already have come to Wrigley and impressed in their short time up. Along with Soler, Albert Almora also was promoted a level Tuesday night and last week, recent draft pick Kyle Schwarber was moved up to Hi-A Daytona, his third level in barely two months of professional ball.
With the dominoes falling a little faster than many expected, it appears the future is rapidly approaching for the Cubs. There will certainly bumps along the way, but the focus is finally turning from the farm system to the actual big league product at Wrigley Field.