Healthy Soler shines in return to Smokies

Cubs' No. 5 prospect hits two-run double, reaches base four times

Jorge Soler injured his right hamstring in Tennessee's first game of the season. (Walter Barnard)

By Mark Emery / | May 9, 2014 2:03 AM ET

While Jorge Soler didn't attempt to steal any bases Thursday, the fact that he wanted to seems to confirm that one of the Cubs' top prospects has recovered from his Opening Day injury.

"He must feel like he's really good because he asked me if could he have a green light to steal," Double-A Tennessee skipper Buddy Bailey said. "Guys don't ask you that if they have any reservations about wanting to run and steal bases."

The Cubs' No. 5 prospect returned to the Smokies lineup after missing more than a month because of a right hamstring injury he sustained April 3. Soler reached base in all four of his plate appearances in the 5-4 win over Birmingham, finishing 2-for-2 with a two-run double and a pair of walks.

Baseball's No. 45 overall prospect also singled and scored once as the Smokies won their fourth straight game and the 10th of their past 11.

"Baseball is full of ups and downs. Tonight was a big up and a big positive step for him and the organization," Bailey said. "Hopefully he sustains the approach and discipline he had tonight."

Soler was supposed to play in Wednesday's game, but his flight from Arizona -- where he had been participating in extended spring training -- arrived late. While the organization figured one more missed game wouldn't hurt, the Cuban native kept voicing his desire to play as he watched from the dugout.

He quickly made up for lost time Thursday. Soler lined a single into left field in the first inning, and he crushed a two-out, two run double over the center fielder Trayce Thompson's head to tie the score, 2-2, in the third.

"He had a really nice game," Bailey said. "He came back and swung the bat really good. ... He looked really calm and mature and advanced in the whole ballgame, every at-bat."

The 22-year-old drew his walks in the fifth and seventh, further displaying a level of poise that Bailey found particularly impressive given his lack of action over the past few weeks.

In Tennessee's first game of the season, Soler doubled before exiting with the hamstring issue. The injury came a season after he suffered a stress fracture in his left leg that limited him to 55 games at Class A Advanced Daytona.

"He's not way behind, but he's missed a lot of playing time," said Bailey, who estimated Soler has missed between 300 and 400 at-bats as a result of both injuries. "He's a guy that we're counting on in the future. He's missed some time. We've got to find a way to get the at-bats and maturity and game situations and everything else that a player has to go through to become a big leaguer."

In an attempt to protect Soler -- an investment Chicago signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012 -- the Cubs have instituted measures they feel will give him a better chance to remain healthy. He is to arrive at the ballpark early for all games to fit in an extra session of stretching and head out for warmups five minutes before his teammates to spend additional time loosening up.

"We're going to try to be really, really proactive in prevention of any more problems," Bailey said. "But the way he ran tonight and did everything, I don't think we've got any issues going on now. It's just the fact that we've got to find a way to keep him from having issues in the future."

Kris Bryant, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect, launched his ninth homer of the season in the fifth. Birmingham's Rangel Ravelo left the yard in the second. 

Mark Emery is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Emery. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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