Jorge Soler's bat is finally making noise in Daytona, and in a good way.
Soler homered for the third time in five games and drove home a pair of runs but could only watch when St. Lucie's Aderlin Rodriguez hit a walk-off single Wednesday afternoon as the Mets knocked off the Daytona Cubs in 10 innings, 6-5.
Soler, Chicago's No. 3 prospect, went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and his fifth home run, a one-out shot to left off St Lucie's Alex Panteliodis in the fourth inning to help Class A Advanced Daytona eventually tie the game in the eighth.
"He's had very good at-bats through this whole series against the St. Lucie Mets, he has swung the bat very well and he's getting good pitches to hit," Daytona manager Dave Keller said of Soler, the Cubs' No. 2 outfield prospect behind Albert Almora. "That's basically all we sit and talk about. Get ready to hit and get a good pitch to hit."
But for Soler, the trend is one folks in Chicago had expected coming into the Cuban outfielder's first full season -- Soler made headlines last month for all the wrong reasons when he menaced an opposing dugout with his bat during an on-field altercation, a move that earned him a five-game suspension from the Florida State League on April 11.
Since that day, the 21-year-old has been a bit more disciplined. He's batting .289 with five homers, 13 RBIs, a pair of steals and a .379 on-base percentage in 24 games in his first season above the Class A Midwest League. This month alone, he's hitting .333 in seven games.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander homered against the Mets on May 6 and also went deep on May 4 against Lakeland. Keller was quick to remind, though, that for all Soler's buzz -- he signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs -- he's still a kid learning his way around a new league and county.
"He's been in the States now for eight months, and he's continuing to make adjustments every day," said Keller. "I think that as people that grow up and live and are educated and move around in the United States, we are very, very fortunate and very, very lucky to have what we have. And I think a lot of people out there take it for granted, just how difficult it is. Foreign players don't understand at all what the transition is like. Jorge is no different than any Korean player or Japanese player or Australian player."
The Cubs made it clear last month that he'd crossed a barrier when it came to on-field behavior. Keller described the infamous night as "a nightmare" for the power-hitting Soler, who defected from Cuba and established residency in Haiti in 2011 so he could sign with a Major League team. Chicago inked him in June 2012.
"Myself and my hitting coach Marainao Duncan both speak Spanish, so that's been a very good thing for Jorge," Keller said. "He's taking language classes. The culture difference is a huge factor with everybody. We take it for granted because it's so easy for us to speak the language and just be able to go places."
Soler's teammate Javier Baez, the Cubs' top prospect, went 1-for-5, his only single coming in the 10th. The 2013 season has been an opportunity for the Cubs to refine the shortstop's approach. Though he has been productive with six homers and 21 RBIs, he's batting .236 and owns a .273 OBP. The Puerto Rican native has walked just five times in 127 at-bats and is hitting .220 against right-handers.
Keller said the team has been working with Baez on his pitch selection early on.
"I think what Mariano is trying to do with him every day is to get him to swing at strikes," Keller said. "When he swings at strikes and uses the whole field, then good things happen. He has bat speed and power to all fields, which makes him different from most guys. He hit a big home run to dead center last night. He has a home run to right-center this year."
Baez hit .294 with 16 homers, 46 RBIs and 24 steals last year with Class A Peoria and Daytona. The power is up this year, but the average is not, and Keller said other factors like hot afternoon games in Florida play a role in how players adapt and develop.
"The thing about the Florida State League is what you do in April and May [in terms of preparation and conditioning] really affects you as you go through the last week of May and into June, July and August," Keller said. "When you get worn down because of the heat and daily grind of playing every day, you've got to have priorities of staying in shape and getting your rest. Probably the two biggest levels that we deal with that are the Florida State League and the Southern League, and we [the Cubs] have teams in both leagues."
Rodriguez, who isn't ranked among the Mets' top 20 prospects, has nevertheless been playing like one lately. The Dominican third baseman -- like Soler -- also homered for the third time in five games, finishing a triple shy of the cycle on Wednesday. Matt Reynolds and Robbie Shields also went deep for St. Lucie, which improved to 21-11 with the walk-off win.