MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs got their first look at Cuban prospect Jorge Soler during Friday’s batting practice at Fitch Park and manager Dale Sveum came away impressed.
“He kind of reminds me of a right-handed Cliff Floyd the way he takes [batting practice],” Sveum said. “He backspins balls pretty good. … The ball comes off his bat like you want a ball to come off a bat if you’re a manager. I’m really, really interested to watch him on the field.”
Sveum said there’s no reason to put him on a fast track to the big leagues. However, Soler, through a translator, said he expects to play with the Cubs next year. Soler, 20, likely will start the season at Single-A Kane County.
“Guys like him, they haven’t played that much baseball,” Sveum said. “He’s still got to play and learn so much, and face better pitching on a consistent basis. … That experience factor comes in handy.”
Villanueva ready to help: A few years ago, pitcher Carlos Villanueva needed help translating scouting reports.
“I didn’t understand what they wanted me to do,” Villanueva said. “But now having my own routine, having my own way of viewing the game and viewing a game plan and completing a game plan is the difference now.”
Villanueva said he’s prepared to pitch 200 innings this season if given the opportunity to start – despite his career-high innings pitched (1251⁄3) coming only last season – or hit 100 innings if put in the bullpen. While he’d prefer to get a shot at starting, he just wants to help the Cubs win.
“Selfishly, we all have our own goals,” Villanueva said. “But in the end, it really matters how we do as a team and where I can be to help out the most.”
Sveum said Villanueva has completely changed his work ethic since their time together in Milwaukee. Sveum praised his durability and credited the right-hander for learning how to better prepare, noting that Villanueva is in remarkably better shape.
Stewart arrives: Third baseman Ian Stewart has another opportunity to prove he can be an everyday starter.
Stewart’s offensive potential – Sveum said he believes he’s capable of hitting 15 to 25 home runs and driving in 75 to 100 runs – along with his defensive capabilities make him the frontrunner for the starting job. But Luis Valbuena will push him for playing time.
Sveum acknowledged that Stewart wasn’t always around the clubhouse last season after surgery in July, although he said it “wasn’t a major issue.”
“I think he could have been around the team a little bit more, yeah,” Sveum said. “And I told him that. It’s nothing he doesn’t know. For whatever reasons, nobody told him he needed to be anywhere.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the Cubs and White Sox for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @InsideTheCubs and @Sox_Insider.