2013 Cubs Prospects In Review: Jorge Soler

Jorge Soler is a 21 year-old right-handed outfielder standing 6'3-225. Born in Cuba, Soler defected in 2011, establishing residency in Haiti. On June 2, 2012, Soler was cleared by OFAC to become a free agent, and began negotiations with clubs to sign a contract.

Soler was notable in that he was the last major international prospect to become available before restrictions on IFA spending would limit teams' ability to throw unlimited dollars at free agents around the world. On one of the last episodes of his Up & In Podcast, Kevin Goldstein compared this to the shopping spree just before a big storm,  suggesting that bidding for Soler "could get silly", and that Soler could fetch something outrageous like $25 million. Goldstein's silly prediction ended up being about $5 million short, as Soler received a nine-year $30 million contract from the Cubs on June 11th of 2012.

Not too long after signing, Soler arrived in the AZL, batting .241/.328/.389 in 14 games. The organization deemed this enough time to shake the rust and cobwebs off, as Soler was promoted to Peoria to finish the season, replacing Javier Baez on the Chief's roster upon his promotion to Daytona.

Soler destroyed the Midwest League in a small, 20 game, 88 PA sample size, his .338/.398/.513 line good for a .406 wOBA and a 153 wRC+ . Perhaps most impressively, in those 88 PAs he managed to strike out only 6 times for a 1:1 K:BB ratio. He would finish the year universally ranked as a top 3 talent in the Cubs' growing pool of farm talent, and found himself placed comfortably inside the national top 50 lists of every major evaluation site (36th for B-Pro, 34th at BA, 25th from Sickels, and 42 from both Keith Law and Jonathan Mayo). Having set the expectation bar high for himself, Soler looked to begin 2013 with Daytona and continue his ascension through the minor league ranks.

Performance

Soler got off to a torrid start with Daytona, with a solid-if-unremarkable .776 in April before uncorking a .304/.376/.539/.915 line in May that, combined with Javier Baez's sluggish start to the season, had some wondering if Soler wasn't actually the best prospect in the Cubs' system. He cooled in June (likely due to a stress fracture in his ankle that would sideline him for the remainder of the season), but his final .281/.343/.467 line would earn him a selection to the Futures Game's International Team roster.

The only downside to Soler's season was its relatively short length, thanks to a combination of suspension and injury.  On April 10th, in a game against the Clearwater Threshers, Soler exchanged some fairly nasty words with Carlos Alonso after an inning-ending double play, and Alonso reportedly stepped on Soler. Soler responded by going to the dugout, grabbing a bat, and attacking the Clearwater dugout. It took Baez and the Daytona hitting coach prying the intimidatingly-stout Soler away from the Threshers' side of the field to finally end the altercation. He was suspended five games for the incident.

 Then on June 27th, after missing the Futures Game and not playing for two weeks, the Cubs announced that Soler had suffered a stress fracture that would keep him in a walking boot for 4-6 weeks. While the front office left the door open for a possible return to Daytona this season, Soler would eventually be shut down for the season, looking to make up lost at-bats in the AFL.

Scouting

There's a ton of available scouting on Soler, so I'll let that do the talking. 

Here's a portion of Baseball America's Prospect Handbook blurb on Soler from before this season:

The ball explodes off Soler's bat, and his well above-average power can make any ballpark look small. He hit two balls onto Waveland Avenue while taking batting practice at Wrigley Field in September. He has feel for hitting too, as he uses a game plan, recognizes pitches well and can make two-strike adjustments. Some scouts worry about an arm bar and some stiffness in his swing. Soler has solid speed once he gets going and good instincts on the bases. Once he improves his routes to balls, he'll be an asset in right field. He has well above-average arm strength and makes accurate throws. A prototypical right fielder, Soler has a ceiling that rivals Javier Baez's as the highest among Chicago farmhands. The Cubs may be conservative to start 2013, letting Soler tear up the Midwest League while he continues to get acclimated to the United States. He and Albert Almora may race through the system together.

Here's some of what Baseball Prospectus had to say in their Futures Guide from this season:

Strengths: 7 raw power; easy bat speed; loud contact off the barrel to all fields; plays with strength and athleticism; solid approach at the plate; recognizes early; will work counts; plus arm; good carry; runs very well for a right fielder; shows some overall feel for the game; assimilation has been smooth (so far).

Weaknesses: Questions about the future utility of the hit tool based on a few mechanical hitches that could limit his ability to stay inside of quality stuff; defensive profile puts pressure on bat to achieve first-division value; unknown hurdles associated with assimilation process; small professional sample. Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Soler would often struggle to keep his hands inside and his early extension would leave him open to quality stuff on the inner half. If the hit tool is stronger than we are giving it credit for, the offensive upside will be very impressive, as Soler will profile as a middle-of-the-order force at the major-league level.

And finally, here's Sickels from February:

Soler is a chiseled athlete with outstanding raw power, above-average speed, and a strong throwing arm. He demonstrated all of those tools in his first pro look, and he showed good skills once he got settled in. Although he could use some polish with the strike zone, his pitch recognition skills weren't terrible. He kills fastballs. Breaking balls will cross him up sometimes, but note his very low strikeout rate for Peoria. Granted the sample is small, but a low whiff rate like that, combined with huge power, is a strong sabermetric marker. Soler also needs more experience on defense, but his range and arm strength will work well in right field. Assuming Soler's listed birthday is correct, he looks like a helluva prospect to me. Grade B+, and that might be too conservative.

Outlook

Soler will end up once again in the Top 50 of all the major prospect rankings this offseason, and deservedly so. His injury may keep him out of the Top 25 on some lists, but Parks has strongly intimated that Soler will be in his Top 25, and Baseball America has been similarly bullish on Soler in their Top 100. His suspension briefly raised a flurry of character and makeup questions in the national media (as well as the Facebook Cubs crowd), but these were quickly drowned out once Soler started raking again. The fact that the stress fracture was not the result of any particular incident or injury – but just sort of happened due to wear and tear — could raise questions about his long-term durability if you were a person prone to finding things to worry about. But really, I don't think there's much reason to be anything other than excited to see Soler get back on a field and start mashing baseballs again. With a good, productive AFL season, Soler should end up only a little bit behind where he might be on the development track had he had a full, healthy 2013, starting 2014 in Double-A.

Long-term, the ceiling is as high for Soler as it is for anyone in the Cubs organization. Though he's somehow flown a bit under the radar thanks to the drama of Baez's might and the shiny-new-toy-ness of Kris Bryant, Soler would be the top prospect in a good many farm systems, and his value should not be overlooked. In a recent episode of the Bleacher Nation Podcast, Brett and Sahadev speculated that at this point (thanks to Baez's explosive tour through the Southern League) Soler might be the Cubs prospect most likely to be traded in a blockbuster deal for pitching depth. I'd be surprised to see him (or any of the top four, for that matter) moved at any point in the near future, given the relatively underwhelming years of Rizzo and Castro. The offense needs more than one or two bats to fix this team's run-scoring woes, and when you combine that with the hefty dollar amount attached to Soler's contract as a minor leaguer, I think Theo and company will wait to get a look at Soler in the majors before even considering moving him. 

2013 Cubs Prospect Reviews

 

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