Since winning the National League Central in 2008 the Cubs have been in steep decline, culminating in a 101 loss season in 2012. Whether the organization is able to rise up from the cellar may hinge on a trio of hitting prospects, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. It’s easy to fall in love with Baez’s dreamy bat speed or Almora’s rare combination of tools and polish, but it is Soler who is the game’s next elite prospect.
Just days after the Cubs selected Almora in the 2012 June Draft, they bolstered their farm system by signing Jorge Soler to a 9 year $30 million contract. General Manager Jed Hoyer and his boss, Theo Epstein, were forced to answer a difficult question. What is the appropriate level of competition for a 20-year-old who hasn’t faced live pitching in two years? Yes, you read that correctly. When Soler began his month and a half long stateside debut in the Arizona League he had not played a game since the 2010 World Junior Baseball Championship.
Soler’s 2012 debut was essentially him shaking the rust off, but there are things that stand out. The first thing that catches one’s eye is Soler has the build of an elite athlete. He has a lean muscular frame that oozes athleticism. Soler’s upper legs are well developed and provide him with a powerful base. His chest and back are impressive too, but further growth of his upper half shouldn’t be unexpected.
Despite the layoff, Soler’s tools are exceptionally loud. Power will be the Cuban’s carry tool, but he also posses a plus arm and average or better speed. His power is derived from the immense bat speed he generates with his hands and hips. His hands begin in a high load and require minimal movement before he rifles them forward in conjunction with his hip turn. The power projection comes not only from the bat speed, but the lift and leverage present too. It’s easy to grade his future power a six or seven and its utility should not be undermined by his hit tool.
The simplicity of his swing and the use of his hands suggest he has the ability develop an average or better hit tool, but his aggressive approach and pitch recognition are important indicators to consider too. I’ve seen his approach questioned and witnesses him failing at breaking balls, but his layoff is important context to consider. Without playing in a game for two years, it’s understandable Soler would need time to adjust to pitch sequencing, recognize pitches, and control the strike zone. Those skills cannot be developed in a batting cage or during batting practice and will temporarily deteriorate if they are not used. Reports out of Cubs camp is that Soler has come into camp improved in all of these areas. In his first full season the development of his hit tool and approach will be important to watch.
Few in the minor leagues possess comparable tools to Jorge Soler, but 2013 will be a challenge for the outfielder. While Soler needs experience and exposure to more advanced pitchers to continue his development, competing in a full minor league campaign will prove to be grueling after his layoff. Hopefully I’ll be able get another look and video of Soler when the FanGraphs caravan arrives in Arizona next week. With Soler slated for the Florida State League, I may not have another chance to see him until next Spring.