8/26/2014 7:46 P.M. ET
Calling all hitters: Cubs adding Soler to display case
Prospect arrives as singular talent in club's staggering collection of young bats
By Phil Rogers / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Don't blink or you'll miss it.
The arrival of another young Cubs hitter with an impressive pedigree.
Go out of town, fail to check the box scores and you might miss the arrival of a couple of guys you've been waiting on -- for one year, two years, three years or maybe all your life, if you have been waiting for the start of the Cubs' era.
A Chicago season that started with the White Sox's Jose Abreu arriving on the South Side as the second coming of Frank Thomas is ending with the Cubs starting to put the pieces together after three years of a ground-up rebuilding effort by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
When Cuban Jorge Soler takes his place in right field on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, playing alongside newcomers Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez and young veterans Anthony Rizzo (25) and Starlin Castro (24), the Cubs will have a lineup built to last -- the kind that makes fans dream about long runs at the top.
And, as you know, this isn't all that's in the Pipeline.
By this time next year, third baseman Kris Bryant and possibly shortstop Addison Russell and left fielder/catcher Kyle Schwarber will have taken their places at Wrigley Field. Outfielders Albert Almora and Billy McKinney shouldn't be far away, either.
These might be the dog days around Major League Baseball, but not for fans of the Cubs. As painful as it was to watch their team play out the string in recent seasons, this September will be different. It will offer a sneak preview of the team that Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod have been patiently assembling since they arrived late in 2011.
No one knows where the franchise goes from here.
When you haven't won a World Series for 106 years, it's preposterous to think about winning three in 10 years, as the Red Sox did after Epstein took over the strong organization he inherited from Dan Duquette and Mike Port, or the five in 14 seasons that the Yankees did under Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. But for the first time since baseball games were on the radio, it is not delusional for Cubs fans to dream about their team achieving sustained success.
How can you not get excited about what these kids are doing? Soler, signed at age 20 to a nine-year, $30 million contract on the heels of Yoenis Cespedes' deal with the Athletics, has put together a career slash line of .307/.383/.551 with a .935 OPS in 151 Minor League games -- totals that could have been higher if not for injuries and the challenges presented by his abrupt cultural shift. He's hit .340 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and a Minors-best 1.132 OPS in 62 games this year.
Any organization would be thrilled to have Soler.
Bryant, selected second overall in 2013 from the University of San Diego, leads the Minor Leagues with 43 home runs this year. He has a .331/.431/.679 slash line in 168 career games (including a 1.118 OPS this season). Bryant is probably as ready for the Major Leagues as Baez, Alcantara or Soler, but the Cubs are leaving him in Triple-A Iowa to finish out his Minor League Player of the Year season and hopefully carry the I-Cubs to a Pacific Coast League title.
Imagine an organization getting to pair Bryant and Soler.
Baez, who was a first-round pick in 2011, is a natural shortstop who has hit 67 home runs the last two seasons, including seven in his first 20 Major League games. He put up a career slash line of .278/.336/.545 in 319 games in the Minors.
Isn't it sick for one organization to have three kids with the power of Baez, Bryant and Soler?
Then there's the left-handed-hitting Schwarber, a first-round pick this year from Indiana University who balances out the right-handed bats. He's played only 68 games as a pro and is currently in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Schwarber's slash line is .352/.440/.664 -- the third 1.100-plus OPS among the Cubs' top prospects.
Are these guys using aluminum bats?
Between them, Baez, Soler, Bryant and Schwarber have played 426 games as pros. Divide their combined production into blocks of 500 at-bats and you have four guys hitting .300 with an average of 34 home runs and 104 RBIs.
These are Minor League numbers, sure. But they were put together in an era of dominant pitching, and at Wrigley Field, the kids get to hit around Rizzo and Castro, who this year have combined to hit .282 and project to produce 52 home runs and 167 RBIs.
Here's one final number to add to the equation: one error in 41 games. That's what has been charged to Russell since he arrived at Double-A Tennessee after he and McKinney were acquired in the trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
The 20-year-old shortstop is yet another high-level hitter (slash line of .301/.381/.527 in 227 games as a pro), but Russell figures to be the steadiest player of the bunch. His profile is absolutely Jeterian.
Maybe you've seen a time when one organization had this many ultra-productive, ultra-promising players age 25 and under. But I don't think I have.
With Rizzo, Castro and Soler signed long term, and so many other young, low-salaried guys in the lineup, the Cubs are positioned as well as any team in the Majors to chase free agents or big-ticket talents available through trades for the foreseeable future.
Forget goats, black cats and unfortunate fans making ill-advised plays on foul balls. The Cubs aren't going to take chances with their next contender. They're going to overwhelm their sad history with a wave of talent like only the best teams ever put together.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.