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Cubs can’t wait long on prospects like Soler to improve

Youth need to produce soon

This is a 2013 photo of Jorge Soler of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Cubs active roster as of Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
This is a 2013 photo of Jorge Soler of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This image reflects the Cubs active roster as of Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

MESA, Ariz. – Much of the focus at Hohokam Stadium this spring has been on Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, the Cubs' top two prospects.

But several other heralded prospects are in camp, and many of them will have to step up if the Cubs plan to meet their goal of becoming annual contenders by 2015.

After being traded to the Tigers in August on the same day Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters were called up from Triple-A Iowa, Jeff Baker left with some words of wisdom for the youngsters:

Produce now, or the rebuilding could last years.

"If these guys come up and play well, you can knock years off it," Baker said. "If they don't, you've got to find somebody else, move somebody else in, [have lots of] moving parts."

It didn't work out for Jackson and Vitters, who failed to produce and are headed back to Iowa, forcing the Cubs to bring in veteran outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston as a platoon and re-sign Ian Stewart at third base.

The young pitchers who were rushed into the rotation – Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin – also struggled in a combined 12 starts, leading to the signing of veterans Scott Feldman and Scott Baker to 1-year deals.

And catcher Steve Clevenger hit .121 after the All-Star break with two RBIs in 91 at-bats, losing his backup job to free agent Dioner Navarro.

Schierholtz, Hairston, Feldman, Baker and Navarro are the "moving parts." All of them came to the Cubs knowing they could be part of another swap-o-rama while the team waits for prospects such as Soler, Baez and Albert Almora to make their way through the system.

But 3 weeks into spring training, it's obvious the Cubs still lack depth. With Baker and Matt Garza starting the season on the disabled list, the rotation will be in dire straits with one more injury.

Alberto Cabrera started Monday against the Indians and gave up five runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings. Cabrera, who had a 5.40 ERA in 25 relief appearances last year, is slated to start this year at Iowa. Raley followed and gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Sveum mentioned Rusin, Raley and Drew Carpenter as possibilities if the Cubs need another starter, with Carpenter first in line. Carpenter, 27, has a 7.56 ERA in 23 appearances with three teams and has one major league start, in 2009 with the Phillies.

The real problem area this spring is third base, where Sveum has played several youngsters while waiting for Stewart to return from a left quadriceps injury. Christian Villanueva has struggled offensively, while Junior Lake is a defensive liability. Neither is in the mix to make the roster, which leaves utilityman Luis Valbuena at third.

"I don't have to worry about him," Sveum said. "I know how he can catch the ball."

Valbuena has hit well this spring, but he batted .196 against left-handers last year and is a .224 career hitter. The Cubs will have to decide by the end of March whether paying Stewart $2 million is riskier than counting on Valbuena to become an everyday player.

Tuesdays' game

• The Cubs lost 6-3 to the Rockies in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was the fifth loss in six games, as Scott Feldman struggled in his second start. Feldman, who was named the team's No. 3 pitcher behind Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson before the game, allowed four runs on five hits over two innings.

Edwin Maysonet hit an inside the park home run for the Cubs, and Brad Nelson hit a solo homer off former Cub Manny Corpas in the ninth inning.

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