The Cubs will have all players in camp tomorrow, when full rosters report to spring training. However, Dale Sveum and the front office brain trust got a good look at one of the young saviors of the franchise when Jorge Soler took batting practice. You might remember that before playing last year, Soler was out of competitive baseball for almost two years while escaping Cuba and establishing residence in Haiti. So, how did the rusty $30 million Cuban look while swinging the bat?
“Guys like him, they haven’t played much baseball,” Sveum said. “We all know about the tools. But the fast track? There’s no reason to do that. He’s still got to play and learn so much and face better pitching on a consistent basis. That experience factor comes in handy.”
Sveum – an old hitting coach with specific ideas about mechanics – said Soler reminded him of a “right-handed Cliff Floyd” during batting practice. Soler – who could show off his strong arm in right field – immediately becomes one of the most intriguing players to watch when the Cubs open their Cactus League schedule on Feb. 23.
Did Dale see anything that made him wish he’d still be the Cubs manager in 3-4 years when Soler might make it to Chicago?
“He has the hand strength, which none of us can teach,” Sveum said. “It’s nice to watch that kind of BP, but until things start happening in the game – that’s when you start seeing why things are breaking down or why maybe we need to make this adjustment.
“Does he have plate coverage? Is his bat staying in the strike zone long enough to handle a cutter on the outside part of the plate? You can go on and on. That’s why I’m really looking forward to games.”
With any luck, you Chicago-area folk might get the opportunity to see Soler for awhile in Kane County this summer. He’s likely to start there this spring.
In news of other eagerly-anticipated players, Ian Stewart is back, and his wrist is better than ever. But Dale Sveum wishes he could’ve seen him more last year after his season-ending surgery.
‘‘I think he could have been around the team a little bit more, yeah,’’ said Sveum, who couldn’t get rid of the rehabbing Matt Garza if he’d wanted to the final two months of the season, ‘‘and I told him that. It’s nothing he doesn’t know. But it wasn’t a major issue by no means.’’
‘‘It feels like I have a brand-new wrist,’’ said Stewart, who arrived at camp Friday looking stronger and fitter — and maybe even happier — than last season.(snip)‘‘At first I kind of anticipated a little bit of soreness still being there,’’ he said. ‘‘But it was a pleasant surprise that at least mentally there was nothing there at all when I started swinging.’’
‘‘I’m glad I didn’t,’’ said Stewart, who spoke regularly during the offseason with both Sveum and team president Theo Epstein as the Cubs kept their interest clear after non-tendering him (and avoiding an arbitration-influenced salary of $2.3 million or more).
‘‘I really wanted to give the Cubs a chance. I feel like I owe the organization for the way they stuck with me and they allowed me to do these great things by supporting me and my family, supporting me through the injury, and sticking with me through the surgery. I feel like I couldn’t just walk away from that.’’
Awwww. It’s heart-warming.