December is a great month. We have the Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 Draft (which may not be so great for the Cubs), a hot stove league that is rapidly turning into a roaring inferno, and even a couple of pretty nifty holidays. Toss in some snow and a few gallons of hot chocolate, and December might just be the best month of the off season. [Brett: Dude, you're forgetting the best thing of all.]
But first we have another Prospects’ Progress. Wrapping up the month of November will be two players who had shortened seasons, albeit for different reasons. Jorge Soler arrived late in the summer after a suspenseful, mid-summer signing, and Ben Wells was shut down for much of the year with some arm issues. Both players played late in the season, though, and with both there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Soler is definitely one of the Cubs’ top prospects, but Prospects’ Progress is not a top prospects list or a player ranking feature. Those articles are coming early next year. For now, we are simply evaluating the improvements made (or not made) by various Cubs’ prospects over the course of the past season.
Ben Well, RHP
The Cubs snagged Wells in the seventh round of the 2010 draft with little fanfare, but by the end of the 2011 season Wells had secured a position as one of the Cubs’ better starting pitching prospects. The big right hander thrives on ground balls, and with his sinking fastball and nice slider, he gets plenty. As is often the case with young pitchers, his off speed pitch remains a work in progress. The early reviews of that pitch were positive, though, and there is a chance he could wind up with at least three offering that grade plus or better. He already has a fair amount of control for a young pitcher, and that control combined with his ground ball inducing stuff should set up him nicely as a potential No. 3 starter for the Cubs one day.
If he can stay healthy.
Thanks to a strain in his right arm, Wells appeared in just 45 innings over thirteen games this year. Most of those innings came with Low-A Peoria, and most of them came in the first two months of the season. Had he stayed healthy, I think Wells would have advanced to Daytona in late June or July. As things played out, he spent the hottest part of the summer resting and rehabbing in Arizona. He did make it back to Peoria for a total of four innings at the very end of the year.
His numbers while healthy continue to tell the same story as his 2011 campaign. His GO/AO clocked in at an excellent 2.65 as a starting pitcher, he gave up no home runs, and he amassed an SO/BB ratio of 3.00. Those are exactly the numbers I like to see from young pitching prospects. I could quibble about his 9.8 H/9, but given that he is a ground ball pitcher, those hits do not really worry me just yet.
We should probably view Wells’ numbers early next season with caution, at least until he proves he is healthy. And until he puts up back to back seasons of 160+ innings, I’ll probably continue to be cautious about the health and durability of his arm. That said, Wells has the makings of a quality mid-rotation starter. He won’t give up many long balls, his ground ball stuff should play well in Wrigley, and he has the size that suggests he could evolve into the durable 200+ innings a year type that major league teams love to have in their rotations. He doesn’t have the ceiling of an ace, but I think his floor is fairly high for a guy who was just 19 last season.
If he can stay healthy. Questions about that arm are going to linger until he proves it is healthy and durable enough to handle a starting pitcher’s workload. Hopefully he can go a long way towards calming those concerns next season.
Jorge Soler, OF
Even though he is new to the American professional circuit, Soler is no stranger to high level, competitive baseball. As a member of the Cuban National Team and a professional player in Cuba, Soler has already seen his share of tough pitching, pressure situations, and playoff-like atmospheres (particularly on the International scene). In a lot of ways, Soler was a veteran before he ever became a prospect.
His value does not stop there, though. Soler came to the Cubs with a slugging reputation, and he has not disappointed. Soler is easily one of the two or three best power threats in the farm sytem, not to mention one of the better slugging prospects in baseball.
In his short time as a professional, Soler has already produced a small highlight reel of line drive home runs, towering moon-shot home runs, and every kind of long ball in between. This guy can flat out crush a baseball. But we knew that before he signed. The really good news is that he appears to know his way around the strike zone as well. In 20 games and 88 trips to plate for Peoria (sample size alert), Soler drew six walks against just six strikeouts. Even though he only made it into 20 games at that level, his line of .338/.398/.513 is encouraging for a 20 year old prospect making his full season debut.
In addition to his power and apparent plate discipline, Soler also stole a total of 12 bases across his stints in Arizona and Peoria. Stealing bases is not likely to be a large part of his game as he works his way up the system, but it is good to see that he has the baseball knowledge and experience to take advantage of the opportunities he does get.
When the Cubs signed Soler, there was some question about how good of a hitter he would be. His power was not in question, but power does not do a player a lot of good if he can’t make consistent contact. It is too early to know for sure, but so far he appears to be more patient and polished at the plate than we had hoped. That should help him move more quickly up the farm system.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to get much of a read on how high Soler’s ceiling is, or how soon we can expect to see him in the majors. He was not challenged in Peoria, so while his numbers were encouraging, they did not tell as much about his current level or his ceiling. Assuming he has no issues adjusting, I expect the Cubs to move Soler rapidly up the farm system until he is challenged. If he really does have the plate discipline his 2012 Peoria line suggests, that challenge may not come until he reaches Tennessee.
I suspect Soler will begin the 2013 season in Kane County, but a promotion to Daytona should not be long in coming. If he puts up quality numbers in Daytona, he could be bumped to Double A by early August and earn a trip to the Arizona Fall League in the off season. I would not rule out a major league cup of coffee in September of 2013, but I don’t expect one. Odds are good we won’t see Soler in Wrigly Field until late 2014.