According to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, Daytona manager Dave Keller benched top outfield prospect Jorge Soler for their Class A game on Sunday. Apparently the transgression was for Soler’s inability to run hard on what is assumed to be a routine put out. The Cuban signed a Major League deal last summer to the tune of $30 million over nine years. The contract reinforces the belief that the Cubs front office sees the outfielder as a key contributor of the near future. It is unfortunate that a prospect of Soler’s caliber had a lapse in effort, but in the big picture the Cubs organization has now had a chance to walk the talk of the culture change. Soler is the first high profile player subject to a benching and the disciplinary action shows the rest of the prospects in the organization, great or fringe, that no preferential treatment will be given.
Interestingly enough, this news comes almost within a week of the public vent by Dale Sveum regarding Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo not being immune to a demotion to the minors for poor play in the big leagues. In the day or two that followed the Cubs manager’s comments, there was some question whether the Cubs organization and Sveum were being no better than the past regime when it came to disciplining mental lapses and a lack of effort. In other words, why was either or both starting shortstop and first baseman not benched with the vent coming as the explanation to the media for the move? The comments in affect could have been interpreted as more of a North Korean nuclear war bluff like threat than a true shot over the bow for Castro and Rizzo.
Thankfully for Sveum, the front office, and those with an emotional investment in the Cubs, Castro and Rizzo have responded in the positive to the comments. For the time being, it will be left as a “what if” of what the Cubs would have done had both cornerstones of the infield had continued with their subpar play. Rizzo, while not having boosted his batting average much since that Sunday morning in Milwaukee, has shown signs of coming to life in Miami. More important than his two homer, four RBI game on Friday were the other three hits he collected in the series. Neither player has committed a defensive error between them since the miscue filled weekend in Miller Park and the Cubs have gone 4-3 in the win loss column. Now none of these stats are certainly eye popping, but the important thing to remember is that both the players and the team are moving in the right direction now. Whether that progress can be sustained as the season goes along remains to be seen, but both Castro and Rizzo will have another good chance to prove themselves when the Cubs host the last place Padres at Wrigley this week.
As another credit to Theo Epstein and Company, even Alfonso Soriano has revived his career a bit under the new front office. Gone are the whispers of the veteran outfielder spending too much time on Rush Street and possibly derailing the promising career of Felix Pie by being a bad example. Soriano has quietly become a true leader in the clubhouse over the last couple of seasons. Proof of that has come both by word of mouth from his teammates and by his play on the field. The slugger put up Comeback Player of the Year type run production numbers with 32 homers and 108 RBI last season, with the home run total his first venture into the 30s since his initial season on the North Side and the 108 RBI being a career high. Lost in those lofty numbers is the respectable .262 batting average and .322 OBP that are closer in line with his career numbers as opposed to the .244/.289 slash line from 2011. While the left fielder has not yet warmed up to those numbers here in 2013, he has already hit his first home run of the season (which did not come until May last year) and has shown flashes that he may heat up earlier than he did in 2012.
With all the frustrations over errors, lack of hitting with RISP, and blown holds and saves by the bullpen, Cubs fans will need to keep in mind that 2013 will not necessarily be all about the wins and losses. We all knew what we signed up for when Epstein came in and proclaimed a plan for a true rebuild. That means exercising patience as fans and looking to find progress in the little things other than needing to sing “Go Cubs Go” at Wrigley on a more regular basis. That also means noting the progress in culture from the ground up and the Wrigley faithful got a glimpse of that literally with this news out of Daytona, even if it was not in front of our eyes at the Friendly Confines. Gone are the days of Aramis Ramirez dogging it down the line on ground outs and pop ups, or the cancerous anger issues of Carlos Zambrano.