Prospects Report: Cubs bank on Soler power
Michael Hurcomb and I have written endlessly about Kris Bryant and Javier Baez in this very space, and Arismendy Alcantara got his own pseudo-drama when the Cubs promoted him two weeks ago.
But the Cubs prospect with perhaps the biggest claim to a major-league job has gotten nary a mention.
Granted, Jorge Soler has been sidelined much of the season with a hamstring injury, but his numbers in 22 games at Double-A Tennessee -- his only experience at that level, mind you -- were on the same level as Bryant's. He hit .415 with six home runs and a 1.355 OPS, earning a promotion to Triple-A Des Moines.
If that promotion seems fast by Cubs standards, that's because it is. Compared to Soler's 22 games, Bryant needed 68 games of Lou Gehrig-like production to convince the Cubs he was ready for the next level. Baez needed 54, and Alcantara needed 133.
But see, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Because while Bryant, Baez and Alcantara are locked into a salary progression structure that compels thrifty teams like the Cubs to make absolutely sure their top prospects are ready before promoting them, Soler is already signed to a long-term deal.
And the cost of that deal, relative to his upside, is peanuts.
|1.||Jesse Hahn , SP, SD||74|
|2.||Javier Baez , SS, CHC||48|
|3.||Kris Bryant , 3B, CHC||39|
|4.||Archie Bradley , SP, ARI||38|
|5.||Noah Syndergaard , SP, NYM||34|
|6.||Byron Buxton , OF, MIN||33|
|7.||Andrew Heaney , SP, MIA||32|
|8.||Drew Pomeranz , SP, OAK||29|
|9.||Mookie Betts , 2B, BOS||29|
|10.||Dylan Bundy , SP, BAL||29|
Nine years the Cubs gave him in 2012 -- nine years at $30 million, which averages out to a little less than $3.5 per year (not that it's the same amount every year, but close enough). That's a paltry sum for an impact major-leaguer but a fortune for a kid playing in front of 5,000 people every night. If the Cubs are paying him the same no matter where he plays or when he arrives, it's simply good business for them to promote him at the first inkling he can handle it.
Those 22 games -- or really, the 15 after he returned from injury -- gave them that inkling.
Could 22 (or 15) more give them another? Soler's contract isn't the only factor working in his favor. He's already playing the position he's projected to play long-term, the outfield, while Bryant and Baez may have to move to fit in with all of the Cubs' other infield prospects. Plus, Soler has already played, if only briefly, at Cuba's highest level, where players like Yoenis Cespedes , Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig made a name for themselves.
Remember the impact Puig made when the Dodgers called him up last season? Yeah? Well, Soler was considered the better prospect when the two signed with their respective teams in 2012. And the raw talent is just as evident now.
"He's not a wild, free swinger, he's disciplined," Tennessee manager Buddy Bailey recently told MLB.com. "He's got a quick bat and he's so strong, he one-armed a ball out of here the other night. That's the one thing. He doesn't have to hit a ball perfect to hit it out of the ballpark like some of the big-time home run hitters, which is a big advantage."
Between his raw strength, his disciplined approach, his ability to hit the ball the other way and his actual production, Soler is poised to make a quick ascension to the big leagues, and the terms of his contract actually encourage it.
So at a time when all the biggest prospects have either debuted already or aren't exactly forcing the issue with their performance at Triple-A, Soler, whose injuries and inexperience kept him off the radar until now, has suddenly emerged as dark horse to factor in mixed leagues down the stretch.
Stashing him isn't the priority it was for George Springer or Gregory Polanco earlier this year, but if you have a roster spot to play with and can't find anything halfway satisfactory on waivers, he's probably a better gamble than Bryant, who the Cubs seem perfectly content to delay as long as possible.
Nov. 19, 2012 has its place in baseball history. It might not be as memorable as Bobby Thompson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World," Babe Ruth calling his own shot or Carlton Fisk waiving fair his game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, but in recent baseball history it's significant.
That was the day the Marlins and Blue Jays agreed to a blockbuster trade, which sent stars Jose Reyes , Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle north of the border and sent Marlins fans into a tizzy as memories of the team's first firesale following their 1997 World Series win painfully returned.
At the time, it was tough selling Marlins fans on the trade, especially since there was a political backdrop to the story about the taxpayer's burden on the team's new stadium. It didn't help that Reyes and Buehrle were in town for just one season before being jettisoned to Toronto. But looking back on the deal, the Marlins have gotten pretty good mileage out of the trade, even though it wasn't widely praised at the time.
Henderson Alvarez has developed into one of the Marlins' top starting pitchers. Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as the team's starting shortstop. Jeff Mathis has settled into the backup catcher role. Yunel Escobar never played a game for the Marlins, but he was flipped for Derek Dietrich , who could be the team's future at second base. Anthony DeSclafani and Jake Marisnick have had a taste of the majors and remain two of the team's more promising young players.
In fact, only one player the Marlins received in return for Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck has yet to appear in the majors. That player is left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino , who in the long run might end up as one of the top returns in the trade. Nicolino, who was considered a top 100 prospect (No. 86) by MLB.com coming into the season, is 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 20 starts this season for Double-A Jacksonville and is 32-13 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over his career.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching, the roster landscape in the majors and minors will once again be changing. The Cubs and Athletics got the party started early, pulling off a July 4 blockbuster deal. As you are well aware, Oakland acquired pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel , while Chicago stocked its farm system with top shortstop prospect Addison Russell , outfielder Billy McKinney and starting pitcher Dan Straily .
In the spirit of the trade deadline, it got me thinking about some more recent trades since the start of 2013 and how some of the prospects exchanged in those deals are faring.
, SP, Cubs
Affiliate: Double-A Tennessee
2014 stats: 1-0, 2.61 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 20 strikeouts, eight walks and one home run allowed in four starts (20 2/3 innings)
Edwards was a key piece in the trade last July that sent Matt Garza to Texas and brought the right-handed pitching prospect to Chicago along with Justin Grimm , Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez , who ended up as the player to be named later. Edwards has missed most of the season due to a shoulder injury, but even before getting hurt in late April he was still pitching like an elite prospect. If the 2011 48th-round pick lives up to the hype, he might be one of the best draft steals in recent history. Heck, he might even be more of the best trade steals as well. Edwards is 14-5 with a 1.81 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 42 career outings (41 starts). He is striking out 11.5 batters per nine innings and has allowed just two home runs over 204 innings. The Cubs' system is obviously loaded with top prospects, but this kid is one of the best. Edwards' thin frame (155 pounds) have scouts concerned about his durability, which unfortunately have come to fruition this season. But this kid has been great at missing bats, particularly with his fastball-curveball combo, which project as two plus pitches.
, 2B, Mets
Affiliate: Double-A Binghamton
2014 stats (Class A and Double-A): .318/.372/.444/.816, three triples, six home runs, 26 doubles, 48 RBI, 72 runs, 32 walks, 70 strikeouts and 19 stolen bases in 95 games
Herrera wasn't a well-known prospect at the time of his acquisition in a waiver trade last August that sent outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck to the Pirates. But he's raised his profile since the trade and is considered one of the Mets' top 10 prospects by MLB.com. Herrera's weakness is his defense, but the scouts love his upside at the plate. He doesn't project to have good home run power, but he can barrel up on the ball and hit to all fields. He's also becoming a better threat on the base paths, as his 19 stolen bases are a career high. The Colombian infielder is only 20 years old and despite his in-season promotion to Double-A, the Mets haven't shown any urgency to get him to the majors. Although, it's interesting that he's started to play shortstop this season. The Mets have been in the market since the offseason for an upgrade at shortstop, but have yet to find an internal or external solution. Maybe if Herrera shores up his defense, he could be the future at short for the Mets.
, SP, Astros
Affiliate: Class A Lancaster
2014 stats: 9-1, 2.46 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 105 strikeouts, 33 walks, eight home runs allowed and one save in 20 appearances (14 starts, 95 innings)
The Astros picked up Hader in a trade at the 2013 deadline that sent Bud Norris to Baltimore. The left-handed hurler is turning into a nice success story. He was a lightly scouted prospect in high school because his fastball sat in the mid-80s, but the Orioles liked him enough to draft him in the 19th-round in 2012. Once the Orioles got Hader on a throwing and conditioning program, his velocity began to increase and now his fastball sits in the low 90s. Though, Hader's success really feeds off his unconventional delivery, which allows him to hide the ball well from hitters. Hader has a nearly sidearm delivery, but it works for him because he has a loose arm. The results have been there. He is 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 231 innings. He is also striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. Hader has pitched exceptionally well this season in the hitter-friendly California League, which is very encouraging. Still, the scouts are split on Hader's future. Some feel he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation arm. Others feel he's destined to be a left-handed reliever in the majors.
, C, Astros
Affiliate: Triple-A Oklahoma City
2014 stats: .233/.278/.363/.641, two triples, six home runs, 16 doubles, 34 RBI, 36 runs, 15 walks and 72 strikeouts in 74 games
Stassi has been on the prospect radar since he was a fourth-round pick of the A's in 2009 out of Yuba City (Calif.) High School. Unfortunately, he's had his fair share of injuries in his career, which is probably part of the reason why Oakland finally gave up on him last year, packaging Stassi, Chris Carter and Brad Peacock in a trade to Houston in exchange for infielder Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez . Sadly, Stassi hasn't been able to shake the injury bug, playing in only 76 games in the minors last season due to injury and missing time in the majors late last year due to a concussion. Luckily, he's stayed healthy for the most part in 2014, but the offensive numbers have not looked good. The most disappointing number is the six home runs since Stassi projects to have above-average power. He hit 17 home runs and slugged .529 in the minors in 2013, but he's looked nothing like that hitter this year. Stassi is only 23 years old, so it's not like he can be totally written off due to a down season offensively.
, 3B, Diamondbacks
Affiliate: Class A Visalia
2014 stats: .290/.356/.506/.862, one triple, 17 home runs, 32 doubles, 74 RBI, 63 runs, 36 walks, 69 strikeouts and four stolen bases in 98 games
Drury was considered one of the lesser-known pieces of the trade that sent Justin Upton from Arizona to Atlanta in Jan. 2013, but that's no longer the case. He's established himself as a top 10 prospect in the Arizona farm system, and his profile is only growing. Drury came to the Diamondbacks' organization with some concerns about his plate discipline, but standing taller in his batting stance has helped him get extended more consistently and has taken his game to the next level. He hit .302 with a .500 slugging percentage last season at low Class A, while barreling up for 15 home runs and 51 doubles. This season, he has a career-high 17 home runs and 32 doubles. The scouts feel he hasn't even tapped into his full power potential yet. Also, he's improved so much defensively at third base that Arizona might not have to move him off the hot corner. Though, fellow Arizona prospect Jake Lamb is no slouch either, so Drury or Lamb could be looking at a position change, if both remain with the organization.