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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

Pre-Season Evaluation

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.

Post-Season Verdict

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.

Future Prognosis

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

Pre-Season Evaluation

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.

Post-Season Verdict

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.

Future Prognosis

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.

  • EQ76

    “. His power was not in question, but power does not do a player a lot of good if he can’t make consistent contact. ”

    No – but you could someday become a hitting coach!

  • Austin

    I don’t know why but when I quickly glaced at that photo, I saw it being Soriano with a little less twist and more upright in his stance.

  • ETS
  • ssckelley

    Sure seeing a lot of middle to back end of the rotation type of reviews on the Cubs pitching prospects. Hopefully with such a high pick in next Junes draft the Cubs can get a top of the order type pitching prospect.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      The Cubs have a few of those guys (Maples, Johnson, maybe Paniagua) already, but top tier pitching talent still remains an area of need in the system.

      • BluBlud

        Damn Luke, we were on the same page with this comment and my comment below.

        • BluBlud

          post on the wrong comment.

    • AB

      I love Wells

      Sounds like all the ingredients are there (frame, control, stuff) for a TOR guy except for questions about arm strength and potential injury).

      So lame that the Cubs two full-season best pitching prospects (before Vizcaino) both went down with injuries two years in a row.

  • BD

    I hope Soler starts in KC- I am looking forward to seeing that lineup in person!

    • willis

      If so, that lineup is ridiculous. It’ll already be awesome, but if he starts there…wow. I expect, as Luke said, he’ll move rapidly through the system this year.

  • Brandon – AA Correspondent

    Luke,
    Who can we expect to break camp in AA?

    Who are likely mid-season additions to AA??

    GIMME SOMETHING!!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      That’s coming. I’m waiting on that until the trade market cools off, but it is coming.

      To tide you over, I think you’re going to have a pretty good double play combo to open the season (Alcantara and Torreyes), I suspect you’ll see Baez before the end of the year, and Soler is a distinct possibility.

      • Brandon – AA Correspondent

        Looking forward to seeing Baez and Soler for sure.

        GO SMOKIES!

      • BluBlud

        Damn Luke, we were on the same page with this comment and my comment below..

  • Spriggs

    Nice job Luke. That’s about the best Soler analysis I’ve seen. Just the right amount of caution. I can’t wait to see what he does this year.

  • BluBlud

    Soler is an absolute beast. Considering he’s play baseball at a pretty high level, I was curious why the FO started him at such a low level. I’m assuming it was to get him acustomed to the American way and lifestyle. I dont really see him getting challenged to much in KC, or Daytona. I believe his biggest challenge will definitely come from Tennessee, which I don’t believe will take him more then a month at the 2 A level before he reaches. If he crushes(has to have more then moderate success) Tennesee pitching, similar to what Rizzo did in Iowa last year, then that September cup of tea is a real possibility.

    Also, dont be suprised if he bypasses KC and heads straight to Daytona. Nothing to back this up, and I don’t think it will happen, but I also wouldn’t be suprise. With Baez and Soler, Tennessee is going to be a hot ticket the second half of the year.

  • Cubbie Blues

    Nothing would be keeping Soler from getting that cup of coffee in 2013. He is already on the 40 man and it would allow him to see what he needs to work on in the off-season. It would also help bolster attendance at the end of the year (they’re going to need it).

  • ruby2626

    I really hit the jackpot this last season when I went to 3 Kane County vs. Peoria games and saw Javier Baez launch 2 bombs and Soler hit one toward the left field line that I believe would have cleared Waveland on the fly. We know Baez will start in Daytona and pretty sure Soler will follow so I guess K.C. will be content with Almora, Vogelbach and probably several others from last years loaded Boise team. Hope they keep the tradition of letting fans onto the field before games to meet the home team players, that would be really cool. Getting back to Baez and Soler, it’s funny how the ball sounds different coming off their bats, one could close your eyes and figure out when they are hitting.

  • TWC

    One odd thing to keep in mind about Wells is that the Cubs are obligated to put him on the 40-man before Spring Training.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I know we’ve seen the story that says that, but I still want to hear it from a Cubs insider. Not saying I don’t believe it, I just … I just need more confirmation.

      • MaxM1908

        What is the rationale behind this theory? Does it have to do with odd service time calculations or something?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Has to do with the contract he initially signed (the story, apparently, goes something like this: he was an overslot type, didn’t want to sign, and, as an enticement to sign, this 40-man guarantee was inserted into his contract). Obviously it would be a serious issue if it’s true, because he’s at least two years out, even if he stays healthy. The Cubs already have several guys like that on the 40-man.

      • TWC

        Sound like someone with sources should inquire. Do we know anyone like that?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Edit: Whoops, wrong thread. Yeah, I should ask around on this one.

          • TWC

            Yeah, I mean, that purported contract clause is a bizarre one. I can’t think of any real comparison. It’s one thing, I guess, to get a roster spot upon signing, but it’s another to be guaranteed one in 3 or 4 years.

            • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

              I wonder how many prospects shoot themselves in the foot through accelerated promotion (even when they aren’t ready) or outright release because of clauses like these…

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Szczur’s contract was that way, but only because it was a second contract (he was drafted, signed conditionally (he could quit and go play football), and then signed a subsequent contract for more money with a promise to stop playing football). Apparently when that happens, there is a deadline by which you have to be put on 40-man roster or you’re Rule 5 eligible.

              This is definitely different.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        I’m with Brett on this. I’ve seen the reports, but always they are second or third hand. It could be the case, but I don’t think we know that for certain.

        And if it was the case, I’d be stunned if there was not some clause along with that clause that enabled the Cubs to renegotiate/buy out that provision. Teenagers very, very rarely get irrevocable guarantees that they will be rostered unless they are a consensus elite level talent. And Wells isn’t.

    • cubchymyst

      Is there a pay increase associated with being on the 40 man roster and in the minor league versus just being in the minor league?

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Yes, pay increase – and your option clock starts.

  • Jeff1969

    Does Soler remind anyone of a young Dave Winfield?

    • USS

      Yes.

    • TonyP

      I saw Jermaine Dye comps

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