The Cubs are not very good this year. This isn’t news to anyone as they were big sellers at the trade deadline. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been hired on to rebuild a team that hasn’t been very good in several years. There are many holes on the Cubs’ roster, but one in particular that the front office seems to be very intent on addressing is the outfield. This year, the Cubs outfield has a wRC+ of 94, while the average outfield has a 106 wRC+ (so at least according to this adjusted stat, the Cubs’ outfield has been about 11.5% worse than league average offensively). This includes positive contributions by Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson, who are no longer members of the Cubs (of course, Marlon Byrd was awful and no longer with the Cubs). Despite an apparent improvement on defense by Alfonso Soriano (by both the eye test, my eyes at least, and according to advanced metrics), the Cubs still rate rather lowly defensively in the outfield (and were absolutely dreadful in that department in 2011). The outfield needs improvement, and the Cubs have been trying to do this both in the international market and the amateur draft.
The Cubs are a team with quite a bit of money (thanks at least in part by a large fan base) , and they used some of that money to sign Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to a 9 year 30 million dollar deal. The big right-hander (not thick yet, but will most likely get larger) lacks speed as a tool, which keeps him in right-field. He seems to have some plate discipline, but it looks like righties can get him with sliders down and away, as long as they are somewhat close to the zone. Soler sees a lot of breaking balls out of the zone to start counts. The swing is pretty big, and at times has a weird path. With that said, the contact tool looks pretty good, and he can make contact on pitches all over the zone. He showed his ability to hit the ball to all fields and showed off his power as well in the short sample I was able to see him. He didn’t see a lot of fastballs for this reason. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever seen a hitter see so few fastballs in a two game stretch (other than maybe a slumping Josh Hamilton). That was okay though, as he hit a homer on a hanging breaking pitch. He got a fastball up and in and swung too late (despite displaying some bat speed, it really looked like it just surprised him) and fouled it off. In the field, his arm looks okay and it looks like he gets good reads which could make up for lack of speed.
In the 2012 draft, the first for Epstein and company, the Cubs drafted Albert Almora and signed him for 3.9 million dollars (because the rules between the draft and international signings are so different, especially before things changed in June, it isn’t really fair to compare their bonuses. No one thinks that Soler is 10 times the player Almora is). According to Baseball America, “his feel for hitting is beyond his years”. Unlike Soler, he plays center field, which makes him more attractive defensively. Nothing about his size tells you that he won’t be able to stay there. While he needs work on his routes, he seems to have the athleticism to be pretty good in the field.
At the plate, the cliche “the ball jumps off his bat” seems to apply here. He showed off some pull power by homering in just his 2nd at-bat in short-season Boise on a fastball that caught too much of the plate. The fastball isn’t the only pitch Almora can hit, as he can drive the curveball as well. The bat speed is there and the power is plus for Almora, who is listed at 180 pounds. Just about everything he hits is hit hard and he didn’t really seem to have much swing and miss in his game.
Both Soler and Almora are far away from the big leagues (Soler is definitely closer). At this point, projecting whether or not they will be good major leaguers is extremely difficult and would be nothing more than conjecture from me. You can certainly see why the Cubs wanted these two outfielders and that has to mean something.