Hip Hip, Jorge!
Six months I've waited for this. At the beginning of this year, there were three Cuban defectors that many baseball fans started to become familiar with: Yoenis Cespedes, Jorge Soler, and Gerardo Concepcion. Cespedes was the best prospect simply because of his age (26) and experience. The Cubs easily won the Concepcion sweepstakes over ten teams or so, inking the 18-year-old left-handed pitcher to a $7 million major league contract. Cubs brass then made a big push to get Cespedes, but the Oakland A's ultimately won out. Surprisingly, it didn't bother me much. I knew that once the Cubs actually became competitive again (another 3-4 years), Cespedes would already be closing in on 30 years of age. For a team that had no intentions of winning now and every intention of building for the future, it made sense to go for the 20-year-old Soler, who wasn't granted free agency until June 2. So once Cespedes was off the market, that's exactly what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did.
For months, I've been infatuated with the idea of the Cubs signing Soler. That idea finally became a reality when Soler chose the North Side as his future home yesterday afternoon, agreeing to a nine-year, $30 million deal. It will cover Soler's minor league time and most, if not all, of his major league time in Chicago. At 6'3 200 pounds, he has incredible raw power and bat speed, game-changing ability, and the potential to do some serious damage in the middle of the Cubs order (which will contain the likes of Anthony Rizzo and hopefully Albert Almora) in the near future. Scouts have been comparing him favorably to the 22-year-old behemoth that is Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins star right fielder. Here is what ESPN's lead baseball analyst for Scouts Inc., Keith Law, had to say about Soler after the signing:
Jorge Soler, the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder the Cubs agreed to terms with today, can show you four plus tools, and there's enough bat speed and hand strength for him to end up with all five. He has All-Star potential for the Cubs if they're patient enough to wait the 2-3 years he'll take in an optimistic scenario before he is big-league ready... ...Had Soler been in this year's draft, he would probably have been a top-five pick on merit, definitely in the top 10.
Top-five pick? That means Soler's potential is equivalent, or near equivalent, to that of soon-to-be stud outfielders Byron Buxton (Twins), David Dahl (Rockies), and the Cubs very own Albert Almora. He's also a very instinctive outfielder with a fantastic arm (Baseball Prospect Nation ranked his arm 60/60 and his fielding 50/60) and can cover a lot of ground with his underrated speed (pretty much the anti-Alfonso Soriano). In other words, Soler has a classic right field profile - a perfect future complement to Brett Jackson in left and Albert Almora in center. If that doesn't make you salivate, I don't know what else, besides Portillo's italian beef, will.
For the first time in a long time, the Cubs are building a powerhouse from within. It's time to get excited about what the future may hold for us, as the farm system is loaded up with some promising young hitters in Rizzo, Jackson, Almora, Javier Baez and now Soler. Pitching is still a major hole, but that issue has been, and will continue to be, addressed. The Cubs drafted over 20 pitchers in last week's draft and have Dillon Maples, among others, developing in their farm system. I'd like to think that at least one or two of them will pan out and become solid starters or even solid relievers (I don't ask for much in life, so if The Man Upstairs can hear me right now, how 'bout a little help, big guy?). Assuming the Cubs trade Dempster at the deadline, it doesn't hurt to hope that a desperate team looking to make a push will give us a decent pitching package. Matt Garza also has tremendous value to teams like the Detroit Tigers (Jacob Turner, please?), so it shouldn't surprise any of us if he goes too. However, if the Cubs decide to keep Garza and resign him at some point, that would be great as well. Plus, there's always free agency - the time of the year that Theo Epstein makes other executives feel smaller than Leslie Chow's... well, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you don't, then you've probably never seen The Hangover. And that's a serious issue.
Six months I waited for Jorge Soler. As Cub fans, being patient is in our nature. If there are 103-year old Cub fans who are still out there waiting (and bravo if you are really alive at the age of 103), then what's another three or four years to us of waiting for a perennial playoff contender? Something tells me it will be well worth that small wait soon enough.
For an in-depth scouting report on Soler, click here.
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