While the offseason is rapidly approaching for the Chicago Cubs, it’s already here for the organization’s top prospects. While some, like top prospect Javier Baez, will head to the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League, others will be heading to Arizona to participate in instructional ball.
At least one of the players headed to instructional ball just happens to be one of the next two top prospects in the Cubs’ system – outfielder Jorge Soler. The other, outfielder Albert Almora, could also be heading to Mesa.
On Soler, Cubs Scouting and Player Development Chief Jason McLeod recently discussed the immediate plans for the 20-year-old Cuban.
“[The instructional league is] more intensive instruction and more one on one,” McLeod told Sahadev Sharma. “You can really break down mechanics and zero in on areas for improvement. They play about three games a week, so you’re still getting live action. So he’ll get four weeks of instructional league, then an offseason strength and conditioning program.”
In total, it’s not a bad plan for a young man who is adjusting to life in the United States at the same time as he learns the professional game over here. Then again, Soler hasn’t played a whole lot of baseball in the last year, so I wouldn’t have hated to see him get a little more game action. McLeod told Sharma that Soler’s exclusion from the AFL was for precisely the opposite reason: because he’s played so little, the Cubs didn’t want him to subject him to the AFL (presumably because he might not yet be ready, and because they would be forgoing the one-on-one time by doing so).
But the Cubs’ affection for Soler is clear in McLeod’s words, if it wasn’t already clear in the $30 million contract they gave him earlier this year. Sharma’s piece is a good read for more from McLeod, and from Soler, himself.
McLeod isn’t the only one complimenting Soler, and Soler isn’t the only one coming in for compliments. Lee Tinsley, the organization’s outfield and baserunning coordinator, also has a great deal to say about Soler, and about Almora, too.
“They’re both kind of learning from each other,” Tinsley told Patrick Mooney. “It’s a really good combination.”
Of Soler, whom Tinsley calls “a beast,” the coordinator just says it’s a matter of time for Soler to break out at the plate, and in a corner outfield spot.
“You look at the size they tell you he is, and all of a sudden you look over and he looks bigger than that. But he hasn’t played a lot of outfield, and then going to a corner [spot is] going to be a little different for him.
“He just needs playing time. He’s going to be well on his way. He’s got power. He can run. He’s got a good arm. He’s got all the intangibles. He just needs more playing time.”
As for Almora’s defense, Tinsley’s reports are glowing.
“As a defender, he’s pretty polished,” Tinsley said of the Cubs’ top 2012 pick, which is something we heard going into the Draft. “[Especially] for that age, he’s got a good feel of reading the ball off the bat. He does things – he’s probably got maybe a half-step or a step into the swing [more] than most.
“[With] some outfielders, it’s off the bat and then they’re a little delayed with the read. But he’s gone when the ball’s off the bat. He’s already got a step.”
That explains how scouts concluded that, although Almora has only decent speed, he has tremendous range in center field.
“His baseball IQ is really good,” Tinsley went on. “He has an idea and a good feeling [for] being on the bases, [and] definitely a good feel in the outfield. He throws well. He’s accurate.”
You can thank Almora’s years on Team USA, as well as his unique dedication to baseball as he grew up, for that.
In both Almora’s and Soler’s case, it’s hard not to get excited each time you read more about them. I know, as perpetually hopeful Cubs fans, we’ve been of that bent for years, but the current crop at the top of the Cubs’ prospect list certainly seems even better than years past.
But young. Very, very young. And a lot can happen between now and when they finally arrive in the bigs. Of course, a lot of good stuff can happen after that, though.