09/15/12 7:00 PM ET
Instructional league begins on Monday
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
There will be more than 40 players participating in the month-long workouts. Games begin on Sept. 21.
Soler, the Cuban outfielder who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in July, played in Mesa in the Rookie League before he was promoted to Class A Peoria, where he hit .338 with three home runs, five doubles and 15 RBIs in 20 games.
Soler and Almora were roommates and teammates in Mesa before Almora was assigned to Class A Boise, where he batted .292 in 15 games. The Hawks reached the Northwest League championship series, losing in three games. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, sees potential in the organization.
"The lower levels had a lot of cause for excitement, especially at Boise," Epstein said. "It was fun at the end of the year to go up there and look on the field and you literally had a prospect at every position, which is rare in the Minor Leagues. That's the youngest team in the league and they came within four outs of proving they were the best team in the league."
Epstein said he was also happy with the progress of Javier Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011. Baez batted .333 in 57 games with Class A Peoria, hitting 12 home runs, 10 doubles and five triples, and then hit .188 in 23 games at Daytona with four home runs, three doubles and one triple. The shortstop will play for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, which starts on Oct. 9.
Other Draft picks to join Soler and Almora in the Cubs' instructional league include pitchers Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn, who were taken in the compensation round; and second-round pick Duane Underwood, another right-handed pitcher. Pitcher Ryan McNeil, selected in the third round, will join fifth-round pick Anthony Prieto and sixth-round selection Trey Lang at Mesa.
Other Draft picks to take part include pitchers Nathan Dorris, Corbin Hoffner, Chad Martin, Stephen Perakslis; catchers Chadd Krist and Lance Rymel; infielders David Bote, Ben Carhart, Jacob Rogers and Tim Saunders; and outfielder Bijan Rademacher.
Shawon Dunston Jr., Trevor Gretzky, Dan Vogelbach and Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion also will participate in instructional league. Concepcion was 2-6 with a 7.39 ERA in 12 games at Peoria.
Barney keeps making highlight-reel plays
CHICAGO -- Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is very much aware of his errorless streak, but it isn't stopping him from going after balls.
Barney made two impressive defensive plays on Saturday and extended his National League single-season record errorless streak to 130 straight games.
"What he showed us this year with the glove, I'm very happy for him," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said.
The old overall NL mark was 123 consecutive errorless games, set by Barney's former Minor League manager and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, from June 21, 1989, to May 17, 1990. The Major League record single-season errorless streak by a second baseman is 141 games, held by Placido Polanco and set in 2007 when he was with the Tigers.
Barney's streak at second base spans 1,048 1/3 innings since his only 2012 miscue at second base on April 17 in Miami. He remembers that play, which came in the eighth inning.
"It was a routine ground ball that bounced a few times and I just over-thought [Jose] Reyes' speed, and I charged it a little bit and I walked right into an in-between hop that I couldn't handle," Barney said. "If I sit back on it and catch it at my waist, I throw him out. Guys who have speed do that to you. You know when [Tony] Campana is out there, there is no routine play."
Barney robbed Pedro Alvarez of a possible hit in the Pirates' fifth, when he snared the ball, then spun around to throw him out at first. In the sixth, Barney somehow caught Travis Snider's popup in shallow right with a runner on and one out, and hurdled sliding right fielder Dave Sappelt to avoid a collision.
"I was worried that he was going to run me over," Barney said of Sappelt. "You're all ears and waiting to hear if he says anything, and I didn't, so I committed to it."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum's playing career nearly ended in a freak collision in 1988 with Brewers outfielder Darryl Hamilton. Sveum was going back after a ball on the play. He's told Barney the story.
"It doesn't make me feel any better hearing that," Barney said. "You have to trust your outfielder, and trust that if he's not going to slide, he's going to say something."
Sappelt did exactly what he was supposed to do.
"He thought he had an opportunity to make that catch," Barney said. "He followed protocol perfectly. If the guy doesn't say anything, he's going to go low. Infielders are always taught to go high when they're going backwards. Luckily for the both of us, he did it the right way -- and so did I."
Barney leads the National League in fielding percentage, and could win his first Gold Glove Award this year. He's got plenty of highlights for voters to watch.
"That was as good a defensive game as anybody could play," Sveum said of Saturday's game by his second baseman. "That kind of play there [in the sixth], there aren't a lot of people who throw their life on the line for a ball like that. He said, 'I'm catching that ball and I don't care what the collision will be.'
"All year long, he hasn't been afraid to do anything defensively. He's been fearless all year long."
Soler impresses during BP session
CHICAGO -- Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler showed just what he could do in a big league ballpark on Saturday.
Soler, 20, who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs this summer, put on quite a show during batting practice -- hitting five home runs, including two over the left-field bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue.
"What a great athletic body," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Soler, who had seen before only on video. "Great hands -- the ball comes off his bat to the pull side pretty nice without a lot of effort. That's something to build on when you have those kind of hands and that kind of hand speed, you can always work with that."
This was the first time Soler has ever been in a Major League ballpark, and he had all of the Cubs baseball brass watching every swing -- including president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and Sveum -- around the cage.
"I felt good," Soler said through interpreter Luis Eljaua, special assistant to the general manager. "I was a little intimidated -- I've never been in a big league ballpark before. After a while, I felt like I fit right in."
He looked comfortable as he hit line drives off Cubs infield coach Pat Listach. Soler played 20 games in the Rookie League before he was assigned to Class A Peoria, where he batted .338 in 20 games with three home runs and five doubles. He is rated No. 5 on the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list according to MLB.com.
After the season ended, Soler took some time off in Miami, where he lives with his father, but will report to Mesa on Sunday to begin instructional league. Soler will room with the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick, Albert Almora, again. The two met in Canada at a world championship tournament, and were roommates earlier this year in Mesa during Rookie League play.
Almora, who was at Wrigley Field on Friday and showed up again on Saturday, said he'll help Soler learn English. How long before Soler is patrolling right field at Wrigley full time?
"I don't know," he said. "As long as I learn to make adjustments, the time will come when I'm here."
Castro trying to remove leg kick from swing
CHICAGO -- Starlin Castro posted back-to-back seasons with a .300 average and, last year, led the National League in hits. But Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks the shortstop can do better.
Sveum is trying to convince Castro to get rid of a leg kick that he uses as part of his timing. Castro did just that on Friday against the Pirates' Jared Hughes, and the result was a three-run home run.
"It's one of those things, you'd like to see him quiet all of that down," Sveum said on Saturday. "Because of the hand-eye coordination he has, I think those things could happen more often without all the leg kick that he has and another little hand gesture in there that causes some inconsistencies.
"It's just a matter of trying to get to another level," Sveum said. "He's obviously at one level. We want to get a 22-year-old kid [to a whole different] level."
On Friday, Castro said he used the leg kick last season, which led to him being the youngest player ever to lead the NL in hits.
"We don't want to be hit chasers," Sveum said. "We want to be a complete, full, prolific hitter. Those three-run homers could happen more often. The OPS comes into play with adjusting to situations."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.