August 27, 2014
The situation: The rebuilding Cubs find themselves in need of an outfielder as Justin Ruggiano is likely headed to the disabled list. Top prospect Jorge Soler has been mashing at Double- and Triple-A and has earned a callup that will likely last the rest of the year.
The background: Jorge Soler is a Cuban import who was a breakout star at the 2010 World Junior Championships. He defected from Cuba in 2011 and signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in 2012 after establishing residency in Haiti. Soler’s had a rough ride through the minor leagues as injuries robbed him of valuable development time.
Early in his career he was benched for not hustling and in a separate incident he ran toward an opposing dugout with a bat. The Cubs expressed faith in their right field prospect; they felt that he has matured since then and Soler has rewarded their faith by slashing .340/.432/.700 in 236 MiLB PAs in 2014 after coming back from two different hamstring injuries.
Scouting report: Soler is a big physical presence which stood out a lot at the lower minors, as his 6-foot-4, 215 lb. frame towered over players who were of a similar age. At the plate Soler starts with a slightly open stance and his hands high around his ears. He has a simple load with minimal draw back and generates good hip rotation with his swing. There’s a lot of leverage present in the swing as he creates good power lean. It leads to loud contact and plus plus power. He’s a strong man with elite bat speed, and this year he’s showcased an understanding of the strike zone that has held as he’s advanced levels.
Soler has good pitch-recognition skills that can get undercut by overaggressiveness at times but overall he’s displayed an ability to see the ball well out of pitchers’ hands. He has shown to be a quick study in the past as he has climbed the minors. That being said, Soler’s patience and pitch-recognition skills will be tested by superior stuff, sequencing and scouting.
Soler is a good athlete who runs well for a corner outfield profile but he isn’t an impact on the basepaths. He has a strong arm, which, coupled with his above-average athleticism, can be an impact profile in right. The Cubs are still in the process of figuring out their infield and outfield situations so while Soler is likely the short-term right fielder Kris Bryant’s ultimate defensive home will make things interesting in the long term.
Immediate Big League future: Soler will be tested and he tends to get overaggressive at the plate, eager to show off the raw power he possesses. Soler’s going to have to figure out the major-league strike zone while pitchers are assaulting him with stuff and location. He has been quick to adapt, and given his approach and bat speed it’s possible that he starts putting it together at the plate more quickly than most. Afield Soler will showcase his arm at any given opportunity, and it’s a good one. If he’s on the field he’ll do things with his bat and his arm that will excite. If he puts it together he’s a perennial All-Star. It’s been a long, strange and difficult journey for Soler, filled with strife and personal hurdles. A lot of the makeup questions appear to be behind him, he just has to stay on the field now. —Mauricio Rubio
Fantasy Impact: Soler is exciting in fantasy formats because he possesses the long-term potential to be an impact source of power without his batting average dragging too far behind. The 22-year-old Cuban native has collected only 236 plate appearances on the year; however, he’s connected with 15 homers in that timeframe. That has correlated to a .446 ISO in Double-A and a .336 ISO in Triple-A. The power potential is very real and can translate to the big leagues right away.
The knock on Soler has always been the questionable hit tool, which could result in a significant adjustment period in the majors. That’s not a death sentence. Almost every prospect in baseball struggles upon facing consistently elite talent at the big-league level. Consider this:
We’ve been spoiled as of late, with guys like Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, and Bryce Harper coming in and finding legitimate success immediately. Thus, many fantasy owners are sitting on these young players and expecting near-peak performance as soon as they don a big-league uniform. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening with any prospect, including Jorge Soler, are exceedingly small— especially when considering that the biggest concern remains his hit tool.
With that said, the young man posted a 15.2 percent walk rate in Double-A and a 13.4 percent walk rate in Triple-A. That could point to improvements in his overall approach, and that could mean good things about his potential batting average. However, fantasy owners shouldn’t bank on Soler hitting .275 to .290 throughout the remainder of the year. It’s a much better bet that he hits .250ish with flashes of power, as I think the power can play immediately. He’s not a threat on the basepaths and hasn’t stolen a base all year. Part of that is due to injury, but he’s not a burner, even when healthy.
J.P. Breen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jp_breen