Frankly, I was a little surprised by the local media hype surrounding Jorge Soler's batting practice session yesterday. Even ESPN would have been proud.
I was as entertained as anyone by Soler's batting BP performance. In fact, that's nothing new. I'm always entertained when he, or anybody, hits long HRs in batting practice. He even trounced fellow star power prospect Dan Vogelbach in a contest last fall, drawing oohs and ahhs from his own teammates with his prodigious shots.
But as Allen Iverson once famously said, "We're talking about practice."
I'm not trying to be a wet blanket here. I get it. We Cubs fans are longing for a superstar. As someone who writes about prospects often, I know it's fun to dream on the possibilities. I do it all the time.
Even manager Dale Sveum said,
"It's a pretty impressive batting practice for the first day out there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Soler. "The ball comes off his bat like you want a ball to come off the bat if you're a manager."
He also raved about his hand strength and the way he backspins the ball. He compared him to Cliff Floyd. It only seemed to lend credence to the hype.
But did it?
What got lost in all the excitement was this...
He's still got to play and learn so much and face better pitching on a consistent basis and older pitchers who can do things," Sveum said. "That experience factor comes in handy...."
"It's nice to watch that kind of [batting practice], but until things happen in a game is when you see why things are breaking down or why you 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"
To Sveum's points I would also add that it looks to me that Soler isn't loading his hands quite as deep as when I saw him last season. There's no question he has the hand speed to still whip the bat through the zone -- with or without the deep load -- -- but if he can still generate power with that quicker, more efficient load, it bodes well for his ability to make adjustments versus advanced pitchers.
I also mentioned yesterday that what pleased me most was Sveum saying Soler was using his lower half well. It was good to hear not just because it will help him have better balance at the plate, but because that was something we noted he was working on last fall. That he is doing it well enough already to impress his MLB manager shows he can learn and adjust quickly.
And that's really what it's all about when we talk about batting practice. The long HRs are exciting and I have as much fun watching them as anyone but, when we talk about batting practice, what we're really looking for here is whether he has the tools and skills that can potentially translate into power production down the road. Notice that while Sveum praised Soler, he was praising him for his raw skills/tools -- his hand strength, the way he "backspins the ball", the way he uses his lower half, etc.
But he also strongly cautioned that Soler has a long way to go and that we need to see him gain experience in games against live pitching.
Let's not etch Soler's name into the cleanup spot in the 2015 Cubs lineup just yet. He still has yet to conquer Class A ball. He should get a tough test if he starts with Daytona of the Florida State League as the Cubs are cautiously expecting. As Javier Baez found out in his brief stint last year, it's a pretty good pitcher's league.
We know Soler has all the tools plus all the the good, professional direction he'll need to succeed in the Cubs organization. In fact, the latter is the main reason the Cuban star chose the Cubs.
"I felt they taught the game the right way," Soler said through Cubs coach Franklin Font
Now he just needs the experience. Game experience.