The truth about Jorge Soler’s future with the Cubs was written on the proverbial wall in 2016. Chicago was so rich in talent and such a strong winning machine that Soler struggled to stand out, but a 24-year-old hitting .238/.333/.436 shouldn't be collecting dust on the bench.
Soler would have been a perfectly adequate starter on most other teams and his offseason trade to the Royals in exchange for star reliever Wade Davis makes sense for both sides. The Royals essentially gave up one year of a great closer in exchange for a long-term offensive talent with the potential to be their most prolific power hitter. Even if Soler fails to reach the top of his high ceiling, he should be an asset in Kansas City right away.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of Soler making the move to the Royals.
One of the major barriers that Soler faced on a daily basis during his three years on the North Side was a lack of consistent playing time. Soler has displayed issues with plate approach and has shown distinct struggles with pitches down in the zone, both of which could benefit from regular reps against big-league pitchers.
In early 2016, with Kyle Schwarber on the disabled list, Soler soaked up quite a bit of playing time in the Cubs' outfield. However, in his first 50 games Soler managed to hit just .223/.322/.377 and struck out 23 percent of the time. What should be noted, though, is that Soler was starting to heat up—hitting .304/.407/.478 over a 10-game stretch—before a hamstring injury landed him on the DL.
The Royals are fully prepared to make Soler an everyday player, which wasn't a luxury the Cubs were able to offer given their many other worthwhile options. “He thinks he still has a lot of room to improve,” Royals assistant strength coach Luis Perez said of Soler. “And his main goal is just to play every day and be ready.”
Last season the Cubs scored the third-most runs in baseball and had nine players reach double-digit homers, including Soler with a dozen long balls. He was just one of many good Chicago bats and in fact Soler's solid .769 OPS was slightly below the Cubs' team total of .772.
Meanwhile, the Royals ranked 23rd in scoring, plating 133 fewer runs than the Cubs. They hit the fourth-fewer homers in baseball and had just five players reach double-digit homers. And their team leader, Kendrys Morales and his 30 bombs, left via free agency. Kansas City is in desperate need of offense and specifically power hitting, which Soler can provide even if the flaws in his game remain issues. He has 27 homers, 35 doubles, and a .176 isolated power in 682 career at-bats.
Switching Leagues and Patience
Soler’s struggles to make adjustments at the plate have always been in question, so changing leagues and seeing a new batch of pitchers is a key factor. The adjustment will be a challenge, at least initially, but it could be offset by the everyday playing time giving him more chance to grow as a hitter.
Soler posted an 11.7 percent walk rate in 2016, which was nothing special within the context of the ultra-patient Cubs but would have been the highest on the Royals. He also struck out at what would have been the second-highest clip on the Royals behind only Alex Gordon, whose 2016 struggles are well documented. Even if Soler's strikeout rate doesn’t improve and his walk rate declines while adjusting to the AL, the Royals have every intention to stick with him.
The team-friendly deal he's on means the Royals have every reason to exhibit a ton of patience and continue his development as much as possible. With the cost of free agency skyrocketing, Soler’s contract looks friendlier and friendlier.
“It’s a little bit bigger than Wrigley,” Soler immediately noted of Kauffman Stadium during his introductory press conference in Kansas City. “But that’s OK.”
Kansas City is devoid of the wind that Wrigley Field is known for and the fences are a few feet further back, but that doesn’t mean Soler won’t be able to tap into his power. It may simply require doing so in different ways. Soler’s max home run distance in 2016 was 408 feet, while the distance to center field at Kauffman Stadium is 410. Being able to cover all fields and hit for quality contact is still a skill that Soler needs to improve and one that the Royals are likely to stress.
Regardless of your perception of Soler’s future abilities, he’s being given a chance to apply himself in an environment that will not only give him adequate time to continue his development but aid his confidence by playing an important role in a new lineup. For various reasons Soler never grew into the player the Cubs had hoped, but there's still plenty of time and, now in Kansas City, plenty of opportunity.
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