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Your Morning Phil: Soriano, Soler, Manaea

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

8:27 AM CDT, April 8, 2013

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Talking baseball while congratulating Louisville for getting its men's and women’s teams to the NCAA basketball finals.

1. With the Brewers as the Cubs’ opponent for the home opener, Rob Deer will see some old friends. But will he have time to visit with them? Probably not.

Deer, the Cubs’ new assistant hitting coach, and hitting coach James Rowson will be busy in the antiquated cages behind the outfield wall. The first week of the season ended with Dale Sveum’s team as one of three big-league clubs hitting below. 200. They’re at .175, which puts them below the Astros (.199) and ahead of the Pirates (.119).

The biggest concern has to be Alfonso Soriano. He’s hitting .174 after batting .230 in spring training. He wasn’t a concern coming into the opener, at least not from the outside, as he had five home runs and carried himself with the usual swagger. But the struggles in Pittsburgh and Atlanta challenge that.

Soriano has had some of those really ugly at-bats when he starts chasing low and outside sliders and curveballs. He’s struck out nine times in 23 at-bats heading into today’s game against Milwaukee’s Marco Estrada, with only one walk.

Leadoff man David DeJesus is a secondary concern. He’s hitting .111 with a .158 on-base percentage, having drawn only two walks.

Anthony Rizzo is hitting .190 but has two homers. Starlin Castro is hitting .240. Between them, he and Soriano have 48 at-bats without an extra-base hit. That’s as surprising as anything that hasn’t happened for the Cubs this year.

2. One Cub who is hitting: Jorge Soler. The $30 million Cuban was assigned to high-A Daytona out of minor-league camp but might not be there more than a month or two. He went 7-for-16 with two homers in Daytona’s first four games, with as many walks (two) as strikeouts. Outfielder John Andreoli, a 17th-round pick from the University of Connecticut in the 2011 draft, is hitting .467 with a .556 on-base percentage after the first series. Shortstop Javier Baez is on that team. He had a homer and a double in the first four games but is batting .188. The early returns weren’t good for the White Sox’s top prospect. Rick Hahn and his top assistant, Buddy Bell, took the aggressive approach by assigning 19-year-old outfielder Courtney Hawkins to high-A Winston-Salem after only 16 games at low-A last summer. He went 1-for-10 with six strikeouts and no walks in his first three games.

3. Sean Manaea, the Indiana State lefty who is a candidate for the first pick overall in the draft, survived a scary weekend. He had to be bumped from a scheduled Friday start because of an injury that was termed a strained hip but bounced back to throw six strong innings Sunday. Manaea had nine strikeouts and no walks in getting the win over Wichita State. The biggest thing was he was right back on the mound, which didn’t give teams long to wonder about his health.

Stanford’s Mark Appel remains the best pitcher in the draft. He blew USC away on Friday night, and is 5-2 with a 1.13 ERA and growing reputation for pounding the strike zone (73 strikes in 108 pitches against USC). He has 71 strikeouts and nine walks in 55 2-3 innings. The Cubs, who pick after the Astros in the June draft, are expected to take one of the two pitchers although they are also carefully scouting Oklahoma University right-hander Jonathan Gray and Georgia high school outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers