In 2012, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made Jorge Soler one of the centerpieces of his vision for the future by signing the Cuban outfielder to a nine-year, $30 million contract.
Soler and Chicago middle-infield prospect Arismendy Alcantara were selected for the World Team in the 2013 Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field on July 14, but the celebration hit a speed bump Thursday. The Cubs announced Soler will have to wear a walking boot for four to six weeks after discovering a stress fracture in his left tibia from a ball he fouled off his leg.
The Cubs have undergone what many would call a rebuilding effort over the last two seasons, leaving fans much to look forward to once the team's plethora of young talent develops into Major League-ready players. Before the injury, Soler had been swinging the bat well.
When baseball trots out the best that's yet to come, Alcantara, at the least, will be showcased as one of the top young international prospects in the game. MLB.com ranks Alcantara as the No. 20 prospect in the Cubs' system, while Soler is the Cubs' No. 3 overall prospect.
Soler has developed rapidly, using his lean muscular frame to generate a powerful swing while still maintaining a high degree of athleticism in the field. The 21-year-old still has room to bulk up more, and the Cubs expect him to progress into a middle-of-the-lineup producer with his impressive bat speed. In 55 games for Class A Advanced Daytona, Soler is hitting .281 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.
Alcantara is a bit ahead of Soler in his progression. He's currently playing for Double-A Tennessee and could see action in the big leagues as soon as 2015. The Dominican-born shortstop could slide over to second once he's ready to hit the big leagues, but his bat is the most exciting part of his game. He's hit 10 home runs, held a steady .279 average and driven in 33 runs in 74 games this season. The 21-year-old had a solid start to the 2012 season but broke his foot in July and had to delay his breakout campaign.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has kept an eye on Soler, Alcantara and Javier Baez, one of five Futures Finalists for the last roster spot on the World team. Sveum budgets time every week to watch video of the Minor League players, and checks out some of the names he's seen often in the daily reports.
"The thing about Soler that separates him a little bit is, one, his pitch selection, and two, is not panicking with two strikes," said Sveum, who expressed disappointment that Soler will now miss nearly two months of development. "He has very good bat speed and leverage with his swing. The one thing I see when I do watch is that he hasn't changed that approach too much. You don't get too caught up in the results as much as that approach every at-bat."
Sveum did not see much of Alcantara in Spring Training, but the infielder did play in the final exhibition games in Houston on March 29-30.
"Obviously, he's got some hitting ability for a little guy," Sveum said. "He's got some power from both sides of the plate, can run, do a lot of things, is very athletic.
"He's a guy you want to watch on video to see what's going on."
Alcantara will represent the organization's aggressive commitment to scouting and signing Latin-American players at baseball's most heralded future showcase next month.
The 15th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game takes place at 1 p.m. CT on All-Star Sunday at Citi Field in New York and can be seen live on MLB.com, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the event live on MLB Network Radio XM 89. MLB.com will also provide complete coverage before, during and after the game. Fans can stay updated by following @MLBFutures on Twitter and can send/receive tweets to/from the U.S. and World Team dugouts during the game by tagging tweets with the hashtags #USDugout and #WorldDugout.
For the first time, fans determined the final player on the U.S. and World Team rosters by casting their votes in the All-Star Sunday Futures Finalists ballot.
Baez, the Cubs No. 1 prospect, was one of the five Futures Finalists for the World team. He is ranked No. 15 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list. The Cubs made Baez, a native of Puerto Rico, the ninth overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Baez, 20, and Soler are teammates in Daytona, where they form one of the Minor Leagues' best prospect tandems. Baez is hitting .271 this season and his 16 home runs lead the Florida State League.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com.