When the Cubs signed Jorge Soler out of Cuba two years ago, making an unprecedented nine-year commitment to keep him under control through 2020, Jose Abreu was still an anonymous first baseman playing for Cienfuegos in the Cuban baseball league.
Now Abreu is having the biggest season of any Cuban hitter in major league history for the White Sox while Soler is still trying to prove himself in the minors.
Injuries have limited his playing time in 2013 and 2014, putting a fixable dent in his reputation.
Soler, 22, was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on July 23, but the outfielder has fallen off Baseball America's top 50 prospects list, while third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 2 at midseason), shortstops Addison Russell (No. 5) and Javier Baez (No. 7) and second baseman Arismendy Alcantara (No. 33) are all riding the wave.
Should Cubs fans be worried that he is no longer considered a can't-miss prospect?
"I know him, and he's an incredibly talented player," Abreu said. "When life gives him the opportunity to play in the big leagues, he's really going to make an impact. And I think he's going to make it soon."
How soon is the question everyone wants answered.
Soler is already on the Cubs' 40-man roster, so a September call-up wouldn't be too surprising, even if he would have spent only six weeks in Triple A.
President Theo Epstein said it's too early to say, and whether Iowa makes the postseason could factor into when its top prospects would be promoted.
Despite the early career setbacks, Soler said he feels good now and doesn't think he's far away from making the big leagues.
"I think I can make it easy," he said through an interpreter.
Soler has made it look relatively easy when he's in the lineup. The trouble is keeping him in there. He missed half of 2013 with a fractured left tibia and played in only seven games at Class A Mesa because of a hamstring injury.
Despite the Cubs' stated preference to keep their prospects on one level until they prove themselves for an extended period, Soler was promoted to Iowa after 22 games at Double-A Tennessee. He hit .415 in 65 at-bats with six homers and 22 RBIs, and the Cubs felt he was ready.
In his first 10 games at Iowa, Soler was batting .321 with three homers and seven RBIs.
Despite the fact Soler signed for $30 million, a hefty commitment to make to such a raw talent, Epstein said he didn't feel the need to put him on a fast track to the majors. And after Soler's second hamstring injury this spring, the Cubs left him at their complex in Mesa, Ariz., for nearly three months, making sure he didn't come back too soon and re-injure it.
"Once you lose your legs, your swing goes too," Tennessee hitting coach Desi Wilson said. "That's why you hear about guys like (Albert) Pujols, who had bad knees."
Once Soler fell off the radar, the hype machine powered down, at least by "Core Four" standards. He was Baseball America's 34th-best prospect before 2013. He fell to 41st before the start of this season before the midseason rankings ignored him.
"It was very difficult being out for three months," he said. "But I worked hard and got better."
Soler said he never had leg injuries before and has started drinking more water after Iowa coach Manny Ramirez told him he had the same issues.
Now that Bryant, Baez and Soler are playing together for the first time, the once-fuzzy picture of the Cubs' future finally is coming into view.