The Chicago Cubs continue their aggressive rebuilding project today, moving another piece of the puzzle to the big league roster: outfielder Jorge Soler. Here's an analysis of what to expect.
Soler was first noticed by scouts while playing for the Cuban team in the 2010 World Junior Championship series. He defected from the island in 2011, then had to wait for government clearance to play baseball. He eventually received this and signed a contract with the Cubs in 2012, a nine-year deal worth $30,000,000. He opened his pro career with tune-up games in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .241//328/.389, then heated up in 20 games for Low-A Peoria, .338/.396/.513.
Sent to Daytona in the High-A Florida State League for 2013, he hit .281/.343/.467 in 55 games, limited to 210 at-bats by a pair of disciplinary suspensions and a leg fracture. More injuries have limited his playing time in 2014, but he's been outstanding when healthy: an amazing .415/.494/.862 in 65 at-bats for Double-A Tennessee, followed by a .282/.378/.618 line in 110 at-bats for Triple-A Iowa.
All told, Soler now has 151 games on his professional resume, convenient for seasonal notation. He's hit .307/.353/.581 with 43 doubles, 28 homers, 66 walks, 105 strikeouts in 544 at-bats, along with 17 steals in 20 attempts. Yes, that's mixing stats from four different levels, but there's been no diminution of production in Triple-A, where he boasts a 150 wRC+.
Soler is a 6-4, 215 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born February 25, 1992. He has outstanding bat speed, will pull the ball for power but will also drive the opposite way at times. He can hammer a fastball, but PCL sources report that he handles breaking stuff and change-ups with a good measure of success as well, making hard contact on anything in the zone but also drawing a decent number of walks. Early concerns about an "arm bar" in his swing mechanics have not been an issue and he looks fluid at the plate. Soler has the tools to play right field including slightly above-average speed and a strong arm, although his hitting is ahead of his defense at this point.
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The main issues with Soler are makeup and his propensity for injury. One of his suspensions last year came for charging the opposing dugout with a bat, which is not an activity that will endear you to anyone in baseball. There were also concerns last year about lack of effort on the field. These problems seem less of an issue this season and perhaps he just needed to mature. The injury problems could end up being a more significant issue but there's no way to predict how that will pan out.
Ultimately, there's every reason to be optimistic about Soler's ability to hit major league pitching and hit it well. If physical problems don't get in the way, he projects as a player who will hit for both power and average. The obvious comparison is Yasiel Puig, although I suspect Soler's batting average and OBP will be somewhat lower and he won't steal as many bases.
Maybe Soler turns out something like a mid-point between Puig (career .310/.389/.514, wRC+ 156) and Yoenis Cespedes (.263/.317/.470, wRC+ 117) in terms of production. Split the difference there and you get Soler projecting as a .285/.350/.495 hitter with an wRC+ about 135.
That is a crude projection method, but the results seem plausible and would be very much in keeping with his minor league numbers.
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