Soler impressive in first spring appearance

MESA, Ariz. -- Jorge Soler reported to Cubs camp Friday and hit a home run in his first batting practice session. That's not really news, but watching the 6-foot-4 Cuban outfielder swing is definitely an event.

"It's a pretty impressive batting practice for the first day out there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Soler. "The ball comes off his bat like you want a ball to come off the bat if you're a manager.

"I'm really, really interested to see him on the field," Sveum said. "I've gotten to see him take [batting practice] and do things, but I haven't gotten to see the instincts on the field and all that stuff. I haven't gotten to see his arm either."

Sveum said Soler, ranked as the club's No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, reminded him of a right-handed Cliff Floyd the way he could put backspin on the ball.

After hitting a ball over the fence in left-center, Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, walked over to shake Soler's hand and welcome him to camp. Soler turns 21 on Feb. 25, and still needs time to develop.

"He's still got to play and learn so much and face better pitching on a consistent basis and older pitchers who can do things," Sveum said. "That experience factor comes in handy."

Soler arrived in Arizona early Friday after spending the offseason in Miami working out. He had been hitting for one month prior to reporting, and said he hoped everything went well in his first big league camp.

Other teams were interested, but Soler picked the Cubs after a workout at their Dominican Republic academy.

"I felt they taught the game the right way," Soler said through Cubs coach Franklin Font.

Cubs hitting coach James Rowson went to Miami to work with Soler this offseason.

"He has the hand strength, which none of us can teach," Sveum said. "It's nice to watch that kind of [batting practice], but until things happen in a game is when you see why things are breaking down or why you need to make this adjustment. Does he have plate coverage? Is his bat staying in the strike zone long enough to handle a cutter on the outside part of the plate? You can go on and on.

"That's why I'm really looking forward to games," he said. "Mechanically, his lower half, I really like. He's a guy who holds onto the bat with both hands, which I like, and right now, in [batting practice] it looks like it should play. It's a pretty nice approach."

After signing a nine-year, $30 million deal in June, Soler began his pro career in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .241 in 14 games, and then batted .338 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 20 games with Class A Peoria.

The Cubs don't want to rush him but when does he want to be playing in the big leagues?

"Next year," Soler said, smiling.