Soler, Almora among those impressing in Cubs' system

Soler, Almora among those impressing in Cubs' system

CHICAGO -- Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod spoke with the media prior to Saturday afternoon's game against the Reds about various players in the Cubs' Minor League system and how they're faring thus far this season.

Of course, the top two names mentioned were outfielder Albert Almora -- the club's first-round pick (No. 6 overall) pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler -- who the team signed last month to a nine-year, $30-million deal.

Almora and Soler began playing together at Rookie-level Mesa before Soler was promoted to Class A Peoria on Thursday. He went 1-for-4 with two RBIs in his Class A debut.

"We don't have any big expectations of [Soler] this year, other than to get professionalized, learn his teammates, get assimilated to the country and baseball in the United States," McLeod said. "So far he's handled that part of it very, very well."

Almora, 18, is hitting .262 with four doubles, eight RBIs and four stolen bases in 15 games at Mesa. He started off slow, but entered Saturday with a seven-game hitting streak.

"The two months off, when his high school season ended so early and not signing until mid-July, I think certainly set him back, as far as his timing and seeing pitches," McLeod said. "He's really getting back in the groove. Right now there are no immediate plans, other than to keep him playing every day down there and let him get his timing back."

Another player making waves in first baseman Dan Vogelbach, last year's second-round pick. Vogelbach -- who stands 6 feet and weighs 250 pounds -- has homered in five straight games, the last two of which he has hit multiple home runs. The 19-year-old already has advanced to Class A Boise.

Vogelbach has 15 home runs in 40 games between two levels and might not yet be done rising this year.

"If he continues on this pace, he might force the issue a little bit," McLeod said of another promotion. "He's already hit his way out of Mesa, and in 10 games or so in Boise now, he's doing the same thing there, so we're really proud of him."

The pitching front isn't quite as impressive, which McLeod, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer knew when they took over. Although the pitching talent isn't quite as sparse as some believe, McLeod said the system is lacking in upper-level starting pitching.

"We have some pretty interesting bullpen arms, guys that throw hard with offspeed pitches they can get some swings-and-misses with, but we're really trying to build starting pitching that can come up here and vie to be No. 3-type starters, if not better," McLeod said. "Right now, I'd say the majority of those guys are probably at the lower levels."

One of those is right-hander Matt Loosen, who is 10-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 21 starts at Class A-Advanced Daytona. Loosen, a 23rd-round pick in 2010, is "a definite starter candidate for the future" in McLeod's eyes.

"He's what you look for, in terms of the size and the way the delivery and the arm works," McLeod said.

The two players the Cubs acquired from Texas for right-hander Ryan Dempster also have impressed in their short time with the organization. Infielder Christian Villanueva is hitting .308 with two home runs in eight games, while right-hander Kyle Hendricks has allowed only one run in four innings at Daytona.

McLeod said Epstein just returned from Daytona and reported "very well" on the pair.