hThe Cubs won handily to salvage one game from the White Sox in their 4 game set. But with the Cubs season looking rather grim, the best news yesterday came from Tennessee.
That is because Jorge Soler rejoined the Smokies lineup and according to one scout, "looked like he hadn't missed a day" and Kris Bryant launched his 9th HR of the season, raising his line on the season to .328/.437/.630 with a ridiculous .477 wOBA and a 207 RC+. For sake of comparison, Javier Baez put up a .435 wOBA and a 180 RC+ in his monstrous partial season there last season.
The concern about Soler has been his ability to stay on the field, a stress fracture in his tibia cost him the second half of last season and then Soler essentially missed the first 5 weeks of this season with a pulled hamstring. It was an injury Soler suffered in the spring and while the Cubs had some misgivings about playing him, Soler badly wanted to play. So he did -- and then aggravated the hamstring after just one AB (a double) and did not come back until yesterday.
And while some may question Soler's commitment, consider that he has come back from every injury in tremendous shape -- and the fact that he didn't look like he missed a day (the scout say he even looked better than the last time he saw him) is telling. That doesn't happen by accident. Soler was busy working on and even improving his game during his time off.
We have forgotten about the big Cuban RF'er and he's the "core 4" player that many fans think has the most bust potential for some of the reasons listed above. But with his intelligent approach, ability to make contact, explosive hands and enormous strength, he also has a ceiling that is as high as any Cubs prospect not named Javier Baez. Remember that it was about a year ago this time when many of us were openly questioning whether he might just be the best prospect in the organization.
That mantle, however, may now have been passed to his teammate Bryant, though some have even expressed concerns about him. A lesser concern is his ability to stay at 3rd base while of greater concern is his strikeout rate. According to one scout, both of those worries are exaggerated.
He believes Bryant can play 3B for the next 10 years if needed. He has shown good hands, a strong arm, and better mobility than you would expect from a player his size. The Cubs have no plans to move him any time soon.
But it's the offense which generates the most excitement, even if the 27% strikeout rate has given pause for some fans. According to the scout, however, Bryant has no problems recognizing breaking pitches, though he has struggled with offspeed stuff, particularly the change-up. That is understandable when you consider he was playing at the University of San Diego just a year ago at this time. There is a substantial difference in the quality of breaking balls and number of change-ups thrown in AA than there is in the West Coast Conference. Bryant is learning. Give him time.
He is an intelligent hitter and the scout remarked at how he was able to make adjustments, not just from AB to AB, but from pitch to pitch. He doesn't see the strikeouts as a long term issue and that while he'll strike out some, he will bring it down in time -- and he even believes he can knock it down in the low 20s as he gains some experience later in his career. That raised my eyebrows a bit as I would be happy with him knocking it down to 25% by the time he reaches the majors -- low 20s would make me ecstatic.
And that brings up another point. Hitting in the minors isn't all that easy -- you are always seeing new pitchers, making it difficult to get a feel for how they are approaching you. And it's for this reason that I think Bryant can benefit from a full year (or at least a half season) in AA. It will give him the chance to continue gaining experience and making adjustments, to build on what he's learned instead of having to start over in AAA. Perhaps a late season promotion is best, as we've seen the Cubs do with other prospects such as Soler and Baez, but I am in no hurry to rush Bryant and I hope the Cubs feel the same way.
Whatever the Cubs ultimately choose to do with Bryant, it seems he will have the intelligence and makeup to handle it. But don't forget the 2nd half of the Smokies 1-2 power duo, Jorge Soler. He has the power, skills and approach to someday join Bryant in the middle of that Cubs lineup.
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