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Epstein discusses futures of Soler, Baez and Bryant

Epstein discusses futures of Soler, Baez and Bryant

CHICAGO -- Jorge Soler has made a strong first impression, Javier Baez is learning on the job, and Kris Bryant is headed home. It's all part of the development process for the trio of highly touted Cubs prospects.

Soler made his sixth start in right field Tuesday, and is one of three players in Major League history with an extra-base hit in each of his first five games.

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"I'm not surprised he's had quality at-bats," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "He recognizes pitches well and has a good plan at the plate. We called him up at a time when he had just gotten through a slump [at Triple-A Iowa] and seemed to know himself well and was getting comfortable again. He was swinging at pitches he could drive and had a very confident presence in the box.

"He's carried that right up to the big leagues," Epstein said of the 22-year-old outfielder. "When the first swing you take is a bomb to center field in the big leagues, it just enforces that confidence. Even though he's new in the league, it's as if the league has had to rush to adjust to him."

Soler hit a home run in his first at-bat last Wednesday in Cincinnati, and entered Tuesday's game 10-for-19 with four doubles and three home runs.

Epstein said there will likely be a time when Soler struggles. It's part of the process, which Baez is experiencing. Baez hit a home run in his Major League debut Aug. 5 in the 12th inning to give the Cubs a win over the Rockies. The infielder was 21-for-116 so far with seven home runs and 50 strikeouts.

"This is the reality for young players," Epstein said. "Almost without exception, young players come up after an initial period of success and adrenaline is carrying them, then the league adjusts and their weaknesses get exploited and it's a struggle to adjust back.

"As tough as it can be to watch sometimes, this is exactly what Javy needs," Epstein said. "He's going to end up going into the offseason reflecting back on this and over time, it'll sink in that despite what pitchers do to him, he controls the at-bat and he can't get away from his strengths and he can do as much damage as anyone in the game when he gets a pitch he can drive and not try to do too much and uses the whole field."

Hitting coaches have told Baez that, but Epstein said players need to experience the struggles themselves.

"This is Javy's pattern," Epstein said. "It takes him a little bit of time to have that light go on at a new level. I think it's part of his aggressive nature. He doesn't back down and has strong mental makeup and will continue to fight and scrap. When he does figure it out, someone's going to pay."

Bryant finished his first full season in professional baseball with 43 home runs, the most in the Minor Leagues, but was not called up when rosters expanded.

"I told him the other day, 'You did everything you could possibly do as a first-year professional to impress and make us proud as an organization,'" Epstein said. "We're just as proud with the way he handled himself off the field as we are with the accomplishments on the field."

Now, the Cubs want Bryant to prepare for a seven-month season in 2015, not the shorter Minor League slate of games.

"I think he's close enough that he can start setting his sights on the big leagues," Epstein said. "Whenever that time comes, we don't know, but it's getting closer."

Bryant has made smooth transitions at each level, and last season, went from the Rookie League to short-season Boise to Class A-Advanced Daytona to the Arizona Fall League, where he was named Most Valuable Player.

"He's as advanced and mature and professional a prospect as we've had," Epstein said. "He's a thoughtful, cerebral, well adjusted mature guy. If anyone can jump into the big league picture in the middle of the season and not miss a beat, it's Kris Bryant."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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