Are Javier Baez and Jorge Soler headed in opposite directions? Joe Maddon weighs in

A struggling Jorge Soler hasn't had much playing time this season, but manager Joe Maddon said it's a matchup issue. "He's going to play a lot this year, not a little," he said. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- It’s become obvious Chicago Cubs infielder/outfielder Javier Baez is making strides toward being an everyday player, but is Jorge Soler any closer?

If you’re wondering why Soler isn’t getting much playing time, even after injuries to outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Matt Szczur, you’re not alone. But Soler’s problem is two-fold: He’s often a bad matchup for manager Joe Maddon on both offense and defense. You might get a start if you’re deficient in one area but Maddon isn’t going to go against his own common sense and start Soler just because Ryan Kalish is his only other option, for example.

Kalish started the game on Thursday night against the Nationals partly because he’s left-handed and partly because he’s a good outfielder, as the Washington Nationals pitched Joe Ross while the Cubs countered with Kyle Hendricks. One is tough on righties and one pitches to contact. In this case, two strikes is enough for Soler to start on the bench.

“It’s not a developmental process that we’re going through,” Maddon said. “We’re trying to win games right now.”

So it’s going to take at least a favorable matchup on one end or the other to see Soler more often on the field. Even then it might not be enough as a player like Baez might be favorable in both areas. We already know his defense is right there and now his offense is coming around. Baez is hitting .341 entering play on Friday.

“He’s just accelerated maturity wise, his outlook on the day is really staggeringly different than it was last year,” Maddon said. “He’s really grown up quickly. He gets his role on a daily basis.”

That role is growing while Soler’s is stagnant, at best. But Maddon says don’t jump to conclusions. Maybe in colder weather, with a tough righty on the mound and gold-glove outfielder Jason Heyward hurting there was no spot for Soler, but the Cubs manager still says his time is coming.

“He’s going to play a lot this year, not a little,” Maddon stated. “He’s a big part of our future, no question. But of course he’s not been swinging the bat like he can. We have other options right now against a pitcher (Ross) that is very difficult against righties. You could attempt to force him in there if you like and maybe he can be successful tonight (Thursday). Based on what I’ve seen so far I thought this was the best thing to do.”

Soler has actually had some good at-bats this year. For example he’s brought home a runner from third base with less than two outs 4 of 5 times (80 percent). For comparison he did that just 36 percent of the time last season. His bigger issue might be in the outfield where seemingly anyone that can play left field or right has passed him by. Schwarber played ahead of him when he was healthy – as has Bryant, Szczur, Baez and even Ben Zobrist. So we’ll have to take Maddon’s word for it when he says Soler will be a big part of this season because right now it seems like the matchup has to be just right.

“I’m telling you, soon he’s going to be very much involved because this guy is a big part of our future,” Maddon stated.

As for Baez, his future might be now after putting on a defensive show at third base earlier this week. On Friday he was back at his most familiar position, shortstop, giving Addison Russell a day off. For now he’ll move around, but Maddon doesn’t believe that will be his career arc.

“He’s probably going to settle into one spot in the infield,” Maddon said. “Probably. His defense is really different, in a good way.

“You might want him to nail down a spot I think. In the middle of the field somewhere, because he can contribute more there normally.”

In other words, Baez is too good to waste on a super-utility role, in Maddon’s opinion. Assuming his offense continues to improve, his value lies in the middle of the diamond. That could be next week, next year or in several years. It all depends.

“For right now, I love where he is at regarding this ‘Super U’ (utility) kind of an attitude,” Maddon said.