New Dynamic Duo For Cubs

CHICAGO — Billy Williams and Ernie Banks spent 11 seasons hitting next to each other in the Cubs' lineup. Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa were together nine seasons. That's the kind of run that Theo Epstein and Co. are envisioning for the top prospects they added this season, outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

At some point, Soler may separate himself from Almora. At 20, the Cuban defector is older and more advanced. But Soler and Almora continue to spend a lot of time together, including a trip to Wrigley Field in mid-September and the chance to room together in instructional league.

Almora, the Cubs' first-round pick in the draft in June, took batting practice in Chicago on Sept. 14, hitting a couple of balls into the left field bleachers. He declared it "one of the best days of my life,'' afterward, and Soler had that feeling after taking BP with the Cubs before a game the following day.

Soler launched five home runs during his BP session, including two that sailed over the bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue. His showing backed up the report of one scout who praised Soler for having "Mickey Mantle power.''

The Cubs staff envisions Soler and Almora as part of a future lineup—2015, if not sooner—that is built around Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Soler hit .299/.369/.463 in 34 games between the Rookie-level Arizona League and low Class A Peoria. Almora hit .321/.331/.464 in 33 games between the AZL and short-season Boise.

Some had thought Soler would be assigned to the Arizona Fall League, but Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer wanted him to experience instructional league. One of Almora's assignments there is to help Soler improve his English.


• Cuban lefthander Gerardo Concepcion heads to instructional league after an unimpressive first season. He was 2-6, 7.39 in 12 games at Peoria before being shut down on June 28.

• Center fielder Matt Szczur, a football/baseball standout at Villanova who is viewed as a future leadoff candidate, had a .285 on-base percentage in 35 games with Double-A Tennessee. He has a .355 career on-base percentage and 68 stolen bases in 247 games as a pro.