MESA, Ariz. – As he stepped to the plate during a split-squad spring game against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, the Cubs’ Jorge Soler was introduced by the Reds’ public address announcer as “George Solar.”
The announcer got Arismendy Alcantara’s name right. And you can be sure Kris Bryant’s name would have been pronounced right even if Bryant decided to be Matt Szczur for a day.
But Soler? Consider it just another day of spring life in the relative anonymity of Bryant’s immense shadow.
“Beautiful for George, right there, man,” said manager Joe Maddon, who raved about what he’s seen from the 6-foot-4 rookie right fielder this spring – regardless of how little outside buzz Soler might be stirring.
Even as Bryant produced a four-hit game against the Rockies in the Cubs’ other split-squad game, Maddon already has decided how buzz-worthy Soler is to his lineup plans – with Soler as a 2-hole candidate on days Maddon bats the pitcher eighth, because of Soler’s run producing potential as well as his ability to work a pitcher.
“He’s like Vladimir [Guerrero] with plate discipline,” Maddon said of the nine-time All-Star slugger. “It goes beyond his power. I mean, this guy looks over a baseball. This guy’s got great decision-making ability at the plate.
“He’s a really interesting baseball player, man. I heard all the good things, but in this camp his impression upon me has been really strong.”
The Cubs have taken it easy with Soler’s workload this spring to keep his legs strong after more than two years of injury issues, and he’s held up well. Maddon says he’s impressed with his fielding and the strongest outfield arm in camp.
And after a hit and a walk Saturday, Soler is 15-for-44 (.341) with three homers and four walks this spring.
Soler, who unlike Javy Baez and Kyle Hendricks retains his rookie status into this year, said he hasn’t thought about Rookie of the Year potential.
“I’m just working hard and keeping my mind in the game,” he said earlier in camp, with the help of coach Franklin Font translating.
Maddon didn’t see Soler play until this spring. “As a scout, my God – how old is he? 23?,” Maddon said. “I mean, if he was in the United States as a draft choice, he’s a No. 1 pick, there’s no doubt. No. 1 [overall], absolutely.”
Soler, who had a .903 OPS during a monthlong debut last year, seems confident, healthy and strong heading into the April 5 opener against the Cardinals.
“I think I’ve got a chance to take off, keeping my routine and doing the same as last year,” he said.
NOTE: The Cubs optioned former Northwestern lefty Eric Jokisch to AAA Iowa (though he’ll still make Tuesday’s Cactus League start as scheduled) and gave lefty Felix Doubront his unconditional release. Because of the timing of the release, the Cubs pay only 45 days of Doubront’s $1.925 million salary, recouping more than $1.45 million. The cuts leave 35 healthy players in camp (plus three rehabbing injuries).