With Soler Promoted, Look to Alcantara and Baez For Expectations
Taking a look at the slash lines and percentage stats of Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez is a good way to bring our heads out of the clouds. Any idea that this team is just a few call-ups and a couple of starting pitchers away from contention can be wiped away easily. Adjustment time is necessary.
Alcantara is striking out 27.8% of the time with a .220/.279/.335 slash line in 180 PA’s since his call-up. Baez has been a beast when it comes to home runs (he’s already matched Darwin Barney’s career high of 7) but is striking out 41.4% of the time with a .218/.256/.513 slash. The slugging is nice, but oh man…that contact rate. He has 17 hits and 7 of them are dingers (interestingly enough, that’s 41%).
I wouldn’t get too discouraged by the struggles, but I wouldn’t get too excited either. The vast majority of hitters struggle when they first hit the big leagues. Sure, some guys come up hot and have a small sample of good exterior stats (Junior Lake in 2013 comes to mind). But Mike Olt struggled hard this year before finally being sent down.
I don’t have a ton of hope remaining that Olt is going to be a starter on a playoff team, but that has less to do with his struggle to adapt to the Majors than it does with his career contact rates. Plenty of good players struggle early on too. Mike Trout hit .220/.281/.390 in 135 PA’s and Paul Goldschmidt hit .250/.333/.474 in 177 PA’s in their first tastes of the Majors in 2011. Troy Tulowitzki hit .240/.318/.292 in his first 109 PA’s in 2006.
I could give more examples and go on, and I’m sure you could find examples of guys that hit well right away (like Miguel Cabrera). But that would be circumventing the point, which is that guys often struggle early and go on to be All-Stars. So the ugly slash lines shouldn’t bother you a ton. At least, not until you realize that Kris Bryant is still at AAA, Addison Russell at AA, and Jorge Soler was just called up.
For Soler, getting a month of experience in the Majors could really help him going into the off-season. Much in the same way that it could help Baez to see what he needs to work on going into 2015 to be successful, Soler simply needs the extra plate appearances due to injuries. But don’t be surprised if he struggles in the same way that Baez and Alcantara have at times.
Which brings me to the fact that, while 2014 has gotten a lot more exciting because of the young kids, 2015 may not be a tremendous leap forward from where they are right now. Soler and Bryant may struggle for a few months. Baez and Alcantara could continue to struggle or, brace yourself, end up being sent back down to AAA.
We all dream of that potential 2015 lineup, with the (likely) April arrival of Bryant. But just imagine how it will look if Bryant hits .220/.300/.390 in his first 200 PA’s, Soler’s balky hamstrings act up, and Baez continues to strike out at a ridiculous rate. The critics of the rebuild will come out of the woodwork; I doubt Rick Telander will have any second thoughts about jumping on the pile.
I think the second half of 2015 will be the door to the future. By then, most of the guys mentioned above should have had enough time to make some adjustments. We may have a very clear picture about Baez’ future by next August. If the Cubs hold their record together early next year, maybe they throw together a late surge. That’s not to say a playoff run, but maybe a push towards .500.
If the Cubs identify a serious core of 4-6 hitters going into 2016, we may actually be able to start talking about them being just a few starting pitchers away. Of course, that’s under the assumption that they still need starters. We still don’t know what they’re going to do in the off-season or at the trade deadline next year. There are many “if’s” involved.
It’s very exciting to see the kids come up and get some playing time, and we’re being rewarded for our patience with what feels like daily Javybombs. But a team built on young kids just getting their first experiences of the big leagues is going to have some growing pains. The key is to accept it for what it is and just enjoy the ride. It’s all a part of the plan.