Ask Away: Displacing Regulars, Soler's Defense, Amusement Park Rides, More

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Ask Away: Displacing Regulars, Soler’s Defense, Amusement Park Rides, More

Chicago Cubs

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Last night was something else, wasn’t it?

On top of the no-hitter, the Cubs scored 16 runs in their 9 innings of play. More importantly, the contributions came from all throughout the lineup, including some guys that seemed to be struggling lately.

For example, Ben Zobrist went 3-5 with a double, a homer and walk; Jason Heyward went 2-4 with two walks; Kris Bryant went 4-6 with two home runs (including a grand slam); Rizzo added a homer, Soler added a double; even Ross and Arrieta combined to add four hits and a homer.

The only guy absent from the fun was shortstop Addison Russell. But don’t think for a second he wasn’t killing the ball: although he finished 0-6 with one K on the night, four of the five balls he did put in play left his bat between 97-100 MPH. If you continue to hit the ball that hard the hits will fall. Don’t change a thing.

If you’d like your question to be answered in an upcoming Ask Away, remember to send them in to Ask Away @ BleacherNation dot com, or tweet them to me @Michael_Cerami using the hashtag #AskAway.

Last week, we discussed what it will take for Albert Almora to break out (Hey! He hit a home run!), Tommy La Stella’s role on this team, The Walking Dead and much, much more. So, be sure to check it out.

This week, we’ll touch on Jorge Soler’s defense in left field, the catching situation, hot sauce, scary rides and much, much more. So without further adieu, Ask Away …

Do you suppose the front office has any sort of line in the sand, with regards to Jorge Soler’s (defensive) development in left field? Is there a point where they are no longer patient with him in meaningful games? Alex H.

So, Alex, my answer is, “mostly no.” Jorge Soler is an undeniably talented individual, capable of having a plus bat (something he’s already shown, for example, in the 2015 post season) and even an average glove in the outfield. No, it hasn’t come together yet, but he only just started playing with any consistency for the first time this year (it would have been 2015, but the injuries really kept him out).

Consider this: Since signing with the Cubs back in 2012, Soler has appeared in just 316 games as a professional. As a Major Leaguer, that number drops all the way down to 141 games. And before all of that, he had a lengthy defection process that kept him out of baseball even longer than usual. Throw in the fact that he’s been 24 for just a month, and you’ll understand the front office’s patience. We have a tendency as fans to think that players can only improve offensively and that their defense is what it is. Of course, that’s not true. Jorge Soler will improve on defense (and offense, for that matter), and all it will take is time. How much he improves, and how quickly, of course, are the big questions. Fortunately for him, he will get far more playing time now that Kyle Schwarber is out for the year, than he would have otherwise.

Until that day comes though, the Cubs will ride his bat as much as they can and use guys like Matt Szczur to take over defensively late in games. Given his potential, that’s more than acceptable. Patience, my friends. The Cubs have it, and we should, too.

Is it out of the question to think Miguel Montero should catch Jon Lester at least a few times in 2016, to prepare to move him into more of a David Ross-type role next year? Alex P.

First thing’s first, let’s talk about the catching situation in general. Miguel Montero is under control through the 2017 season. That year – his age 33-34 season – the Cubs will pay him $14 million to catch balls behind the plate. Additionally, as we know, David Ross will be retiring at the end of this season, as a 39-year-old catcher (Grandpa Rossy) being paid $2.25 million. Lastly, the Cubs have the top catching prospect in all of baseball – Willson Contreras – waiting in the wings of AAA Iowa for his chance to show what he can do at the Major League level.

So, in theory, you move Willson Contreras up at the end of the 2016 for a cup of coffee, before working him in more regularly in 2017. Ross retires, Montero becomes the back-up and Contreras becomes the starter, right? Well, not so fast. Yes, Ross will retire and, yes, Montero will probably lighten the load a bit in 2017, but I wouldn’t expect Contreras to come in and immediately take over. Although his offensive potential is great, Montero is no slouch with the bat either. So far, in his career as a Cub, Montero has slashed .249/.347/.409 with a .328 wOBA and an above average 106 wRC+. Those numbers are pretty good for any position player, let alone a catcher. Contreras has the potential to be a better offensive performer in 2017, but it isn’t a guarantee.

More importantly, though, comes everything else. Contreras, from most reports, is solid, if unspectacular behind the plate right now (great arm, though), and is still learning how to call a game. Montero’s biggest strengths are his defense, pitch framing and game calling. He’s a veteran catcher who can handle a staff with playoff aspirations. So, essentially, I’m envisioning a much more even split in 2017 than you might otherwise assume.

And to your original point, Lester and Montero are both very talented, very smart veterans. They won’t need to be matched up this year in order to work together next year. As we saw last night, when Ross jumped in and called a no-hitter for Jake Arrieta, good catchers and smart pitchers can work just fine without much prior experience. So no, I don’t expect the two to work together this year, unless something unplanned arises. Lester will work well with Montero in the future, even if he works better with Ross now.

Unless there is an injury, do you think any of the current AAA players have a legit chance for a call-up before September? Could Almora or Kalish displace Szczur? Could Contreras force the team’s hand? Jon A. (Steve Ontiveros’ Mustache)

I like this question, even though it’s nearly impossible to answer. Without an injury, it’s very hard to envision any of the Triple-A Iowa position players coming up and displacing any of the regulars, Almora and Contreras especially, although for slightly different reasons.

Albert Almora will probably play in the Major Leagues this season, though when that happens is far more difficult to ascertain. My gut says that it doesn’t happen until September, because right now the best thing for him is to play every single day. In September, rosters expand to 40 (he has to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft), and the minor league season is over.

For the first time in a while, Almora is staying hot with the bat and finally displaying some of his dormant power. As of today, he’s slashing an impressive .368/.422/.500, but that’s not the most encouraging bit. Instead, I’m encouraged by his ever increasing ISO which is now at .132 (the highest he’s had since A-ball). Like we discussed last week, Almora needs to improve his power game to reach the majors. He’s only just started to do so with any consistency, so I’d rather he stayed down and worked it out until more consistent at bats are available in the majors. (Of course, in September, you definitely want his glove available off the bench).

Contreras, on the other hand, just isn’t ready for the responsibility of leading this starting staff into a postseason/playoff run, assuming Montero and Ross are healthy (that’s really not a knock on Contreras – it’s just a matter of needing more development). That doesn’t mean he won’t get there – and having a veteran staff would certainly help – but I don’t think the Cubs would be better off with Contreras bat/glove combo as opposed to Montero.

I suppose it’s not impossible to see a guy like Ryan Kalish displacing Matt Szczur if the latter were to struggling mightily and a healthy Kalish breaks out – I certainly wouldn’t call that likely, though. And of course, there’s always room for movement in the bullpen. But as of now, everyone seems to be firing on all cylinders. Don’t get comfortable (or discouraged) though, injuries do happen and some guys from AAA will make their debut before expected.

And now for the personal, funny and anything-else-that-comes-to-mind part. Ask Away…

What is the scariest ride you’ve ever been on at an amusement park? Shane (SSSCKelley)

I don’t know why, but Shane has asked this question a handful of times, so I guess I’ll answer it: the giant drop at Six Flags Great America. I know, I know there are a ton of scary roller coasters and stuff, but the giant drop is my least favorite ride to (not) enjoy. For some reason, just sitting at the top waiting and waiting and waiting for the drop is unbearable. Whereas, when I am awaiting the first drop of a roller coaster, I don’t have the same anxiety. Not sure what it is. Roller Coasters = yes, Giant Drop = probably never again.

What is your preferred method for purchasing Cubs tickets? Akshay M.

If you want to find Cubs tickets, this what you do: Go to the corner of Clark and Addison on the first Tuesday of every month. There, you’ll find a man in a yellow hat pointing in one of the four cardinal directions. If you pick a direction adjacent to the one he’s pointing towards, you’ll usually find one stray jewel bag hanging off a street light. In that bag, you’ll find a map to the nearest coffee shop where the barista will sell you tickets if you ask for Venti Double Camel Orange Whip with five sugars and no creme.

Or, you can do what I do and go to or Stubhub. 🙂

Where do you fall on hot sauce? Jon A. (Steve Ontiveros’ Mustache)

Although I am a fan of many hot sauces, my favorite is Cholula. To me, that is easily the best hot sauce, because instead of trying to obtain pure heat, they went for flavor. However, it’s recently come to my attention that it isn’t as popular as I assumed. In fact, it was not too long ago that Brett and Luke made me look like doofus on a Live-Stream, because they never heard of it (and it is a funny, made-up sounding word). But, yeah, Cholula. Try it.

Last thought on hot sauce: If you’re ever in New Orleans, stop by this place called EAT New Orleans. In addition to absolutely amazing food, they have homemade hot sauce on the table and it is fantastic.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami