Just How Good is Jorge Soler?
This past season, North Siders got their first glimpse of the remarkable confluence of talent that we analysts have been fawning over for years. First to arrive on the scene was Arismendy Alcantara, followed by the prodigious strikeout ability and Jurassic power of Javier Baez. The third player of the Cubs’ elite prospect crop that arrived last year was Jorge Soler, and he might be the guy we know the least about.
Soler defected from his native Cuba in 2011 and fled to the Dominican Republic where, after many months of negotiation, he finally signed with the Cubs in June of 2012. The terms of the deal were unique and almost unheard of, as the Cubs committed nine years and $30MM to a player who had just recently turned 20 and had yet to play in the minors or any foreign professional league. Prior to Soler signing his deal, Yoenis Cespedes was the only other Cuban position player to sign for big money, with his four-year, $36MM contract.
For Soler, the thing that made him so enticing in the first place was his raw physicality. When building a prototypical right fielder you are looking for an athlete with enough speed to cover the outfield, a rocket arm and a bat that makes plenty of hard contact in the form of doubles and home runs. At 6’4” 215 lbs, Soler fit the bill in every way with his power grading as high as 70 by some scouts with a 65 grade arm.
The Cubs now had their guy and Soler set off on his minor league career, which was erratic but for the most part spectacular. By the time Soler reached the majors he had posted a .307/.383/.551 slash line over 151 games. Those numbers were great, but to put that in perspective, by the time Baez and Alcantara made it to the show they had played 319 and 530 games, respectively.
Soler missed time nearly every season in the minors due to either injuries or suspension, or a combination of both. The laundry list of injuries and self-induced time off included a broken left tibia, chronic hamstring issues and a suspension for wielding a bat menacingly at opponents during a scuffle. Despite his inconsistent time on the field, the Cubs coaching staff did a remarkable job improving Soler’s swing path and sewing up his approach at the plate. Soler showed a true ability to spray the ball to all fields, although most of his power still went out to left field.
As Soler reached AA and AAA last season, his numbers were significantly better in every way than at any point in the low minors. He was hitting for average, getting on base at a high level and it seemed like every time his bat made contact with the ball it was going for extra bases. When Soler reached the majors on August 27, 2014 his tear didn’t stop, as he took Mat Latos for a ride with a 423-foot debut home run. For the remaining 24 games he slashed .292/.330/.573, hitting five homers and knocking in 20 RBI.
Soler did most of his damage with the Cubs batting in the cleanup spot, which he did for 17 of his 24 games, which shows you just how the Cubs view his power. Steamer projections have been very generous to him, projecting a .266 BA, 23 HR, and 78 RBI over 132 games. Over the course of his time in the minors, Soler had pretty good batted ball data which, while not totally ideal for a power hitter, would be passable as he developed. His small sample size batted ball data while with the Cubs, especially the 11.9% line drive rate, needs to be sorted out if he is to manage anything close to his .292 BA from 2014.
So far what we have in Soler is a player with both talent in spades and the opportunity to produce who seems to just keep getting better. He has improved at every level of the minors, made a successful debut in the Show and showed no platoon splits in the minors or majors. While Soler remains raw defensively, his .974 fielding percentage is passable and should continue to improve with increased repetitions. With prospects you really need to see about 1,200 PA before you know what you have in the majors, and with Soler’s limited experience we might be looking at an even larger window.
In dynasty formats I believe in Soler more than any outfield prospect outside of Byron Buxton, ranking him 19th overall in my recent 2015 Fantasy Dynasty Outfield Rankings, and for solely 2015 I have him 25th among outfielders and in the top 10 for right fielders. My biggest concerns going forward for Soler are not that he won’t continue to improve, but more about his health and staying on the field. Soler, like his fellow countryman Cespedes, seems to be prone to muscle strains and needs to work on improving his durability in order to be an All-Star caliber player. Because of his propensity for muscle issues, he hasn’t run much in the minors and I do not expect him to be a threat to steal with the Cubs.
It is realistic to expect peak years from Soler in the range of .285 BA, 30 HR, and 100 RBI. It may take a few years for him to develop enough to reach this peak, but with more support in the lineup coming in the form of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, among others, the Cubs offense will continue to become more dangerous. While Soler may not continue to hit fourth with the arrival of Bryant, I can’t see him hitting any lower than fifth. Soler is extremely valuable in dynasty leagues and it would take a very good player already in his prime for me to sell him at this point. It turns out that Soler is pretty good after all.