Besides headline writers, nobody enjoyed the Cubs' latest move more than their loyal fans, who understandably get more puffy-chested with each promotion.
Soler powers Cubs. Soler energy sparks rally. Soler eclipses 30-home-run mark.
Word-play options surrounding Jorge Soler's major league career capture the imagination and, suddenly, so do the possibilities for the Cubs.
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Ernie Banks Statue, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
A 6-foot-4, 215-pound Cuban with natural power, Soler became the latest Cubs prospect to get the big call, taking the I-Pass lane through Iowa to speed his way through their minor league system. Dramatically, the plot thickens in the season of development on the North Side.
Never has it been cooler in the basement. Soler, 21, joins the most exciting last-place team in baseball, following recent call-ups Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks in a clubhouse full of fresh faces. Not to say the Cubs are young, but Soler's addition makes their average age barely above Jackie Robinson West's.
How much transition has the team undergone since April? Examine the opening-day lineups of the Chicago Cubs and the Iowa Cubs and you will find more Triple-A players (four) on the current Cubs roster than Chicago players (three).
That doesn't even include Soler, who opened the season at Double-A Tennessee, or Kris Bryant, perhaps the biggest future star in the bunch with 43 minor league home runs still stuck in Triple A because of baseball economics.
But the infusion of youth isn't even the most remarkable part about this season. It's the way the Cubs have done what nobody anticipated by turning a summer of nothing into something, a point reinforced by their sweep of the American League East-leading Orioles. They traded their ace, Jeff Samardzija, dumped a former Gold Glove winner in Darwin Barney and spent more time watching progress in the Pacific Coast League than worrying about the NL Central. Yet since May 17, the Cubs entered Tuesday night's game against the Reds having won as many games as they had lost — 45-45.
When the Cubs begin winning on a regular basis, a process that could start as early as 2015 — when a .500 season represents a realistic goal — core players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro could reflect on this season as the one they finally started to understand winning. This could go down as the season — or half-season — when the Cubs' major league production finally began to catch up with minor league projections.
A big part of winning involves creating a culture, one President Theo Epstein left Boston to change, and slowly and painfully you can see signs the Cubs could be on the verge of becoming something special. By exceeding embarrassingly low expectations, the Cubs of 2014 in a way have resembled the Blackhawks of 2007-08; a different sport but the same sense of anticipation based on prospects on pace to realize their potential simultaneously.
Before the march to mediocrity began in mid-May, the Cubs hosted the White Sox in a crosstown series that brought inevitable comparisons. At the time the Cubs were 11-18, Baez wasn't hitting his weight in Iowa and the rooftop owners with obstructed views were considered the lucky ones.
Meanwhile, the Sox arrived two games below .500 looking new and improved thanks to the emergence of Jose Abreu. This was before Sox relievers started auditioning to be batting-practice pitchers.
"In the unofficial race to respectability, the Sox have taken a slight lead over the Cubs,'' I wrote May 5.
And they had. Nearly four months later, the Cubs have done more than overtake their city rivals as the next Chicago team most likely to make the playoffs. They have become the envy of many organizations in baseball because of the way prospects such as Soler and Hendricks have progressed quicker than many projected. Consider also the addition of Addison Russell, one of baseball's top-rated prospects acquired in the Samardzija trade, who could be in the everyday lineup with Bryant when the Cubs and Sox meet again.
Imagine a batting order of Alcantara, Baez, Rizzo, Castro, Bryant, Soler, Russell and Welington Castillo challenging pitchers as early as Memorial Day 2015. Somewhere, ball-crushing first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber says, "Don't forget about me.''
Moving forward, it's up to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to adjust the organization's budget for this winter so his business side aligns with his baseball team's accelerated development. That means being willing to outbid all suitors for free-agent pitcher Jon Lester to address the need for an ace. That means empowering Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, for the first time since they arrived in 2011, to pursue options aggressively that fill out pitching depth with proven starters.
That means the Cubs acting like a big-market team again, something easy to envision them doing sooner than expected — and not just because of the Soler electricity.