Who Will Jorge Soler Be in 2016?

Some background for those not familiar with Soler might be a good start. Jorge Soler is a major league baseball player out of Cuba.  He played for the Cuban National Team, and spent a little time in the Cuban National Series, but early on in his life defected to try his luck in the American major leagues. After becoming eligible to become a MLB free agent, he signed a very lucrative contract ($30 million) with the Chicago Cubs.

Soler played very well in the minor leagues. He has been described repeatedly as a player with five tool potential. He will be only 24 going into the 2016 season, and almost all of that potential is still ahead of him.

Soler was called up to play with the Cubs in August of 2014. His first major league at bat was a home run off of Mat Latos of the Cincinnti Reds, and he continued to impress by hitting for extra bases in his first five games in the majors. He is one of only three players to do that in modern baseball. That was the start.

2015 was supposed to be his breakout year, but in June he went onto the DL with an ankle injury. He returned in July, but the injury definitely slowed him, and he had put on a little weight. In September he hit the DL again with an oblique strain, just when he had steadied and begun to surge. In the 2015 regular season, he had a slash line of .262/.324/.399 and he hit only 10 home runs. He played very well in October, with several extra base hits, including a home run in the divisional series, and his fielding was solid. He set a major league postseason record by getting on base in all of his first nine plate appearances, showing that his eye and pitch selection are maturing. How can you ignore a playoff performance of 9-for-19 over seven games, with three doubles and three home runs? He hit .474/.600/1.105 for a 1.705 OPS!

That is what has been. Coming into 2016, there seem to be a lot of questions about this 6’4″ power hitting fielder. Barring injuries, he will be the starting right fielder for the 2016 team. Steamer and Fangraphs only project him at between 1.1 and 2.3 WAR, and hitting (averaging the two) about .270/.330/.450. They are also projecting only 17-22 home runs. While realizing that these projections are based on statistics, it seems reasonable to estimate a little higher.

Reports have Soler working very hard over the winter, and trimming his weight. His performance in October was solid, both defensively and at the plate, and he shows all of the extra base and RBI potential that has been expected from him. With a solid core of power-hitting teammates for protection, he stands to receive more hittable pitching in 2016 than in 2015, and if he stays injury free, should start in right the entire season.

He has good speed, and a powerful arm. His fielding so far has not been quite up to the level of his offense, but it is improving steadily, and with a full, healthy season to develop, it could be elite. Maybe Jake Arrieta needs to take the young fielder under his arm and work on the overall conditioning, just to try to avoid the type of injuries that threw off his rhythm in 2015. Barring those injuries, I believe the slash line would have been much more impressive, and going into a fresh season, the sky is the limit.

On a team where nearly every player is a star in his own right, Jorge Soler could be the sleeper break-out player of the year.

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