It could have already happened. The full scale breakout could have taken place in 2018 and I would be tackling another topic here at Pitcher List.
But when Jorge Soler broke his right foot coming out of the batters box on June 15, 2018, a possible emergence to stardom was stopped in its tracks. While there was initial hope that the hulking Kansas City Royals outfielder-DH would return last summer, he wasn’t able to do so. It marked the worst setback yet in a four-year string of injury shortened seasons, dating back to Soler’s debut with the Chicago Cubs. His 2018 “back of the baseball card” line still sends a “what if?” drifting up to the clouds nearly a year after the injury. Soler had 9 HR and 28 RBI with a solid .365 batting average, 27 runs and three stolen bases sprinkled in over 61 games.
That was Then. This is Now.
But there’s a postscript to this story that I think has been overlooked in the early going of 2019. The Royals didn’t move on, despite their organizational stance in spring 2018 that last year would be a crossroads campaign for Soler. The Kansas City brass simply hit the reset button and started over this season. After sending former closer Wade Davis to the Cubs straight up for Soler in the 2016-17 offseason, the Royals are still trying to see what they have.
It wasn’t a closely watched proclamation during spring training, but Royals Manager Ned Yost has been true to his word, as Soler has started each of the first eight Kansas City games in the cleanup spot, six of them at DH. He handled right field, his natural defensive spot, in two of the three games at Detroit this past weekend.
On Monday morning, Soler entered a week long homestand with a .258 batting average, 1 HR and 7 RBI in the early going (31 AB).
Soler is still the Cuban signee (June 2012) who zoomed through the Cubs farm system alongside Javier Baez and homered in his first major league at-bat in 2014. It’s been forgotten by many, but he made two starts in right field during the Cubs’ seven-game victory over Cleveland in the 2016 World Series (2-5, 3B). But, at age 27, the jury remains out on Soler. In the parlance of modern business, we don’t know what we don’t know. Can 2019 be the year that Soler becomes the X-factor fifth outfielder that brings you a league championship?
To Be or Not to Be?
Because of his injuries, Soler hasn’t been able to get in a groove at the MLB level, and it’s hard to draw conclusions from wide variance among his data samples. Early on in 2019, he’s carrying an above average 91 MPH exit Velocity and a 19.3 average launch angle. Both were on display as Soler unloaded for his first home run of the year on April 6.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 6, 2019
Soler is going to strike out. In 2018, he fanned at a 26.8% rate. But, historically, he’s also going to draw walks for you. Soler walked at a 32% rate last year, in line with a 30% rate in 2015, the season that marks his career high in games played at 101. His OBP so far this season stood at .303 entering the week.
On the Wire
His fantasy ownership percentages vary, but it’s safe to assume that his injury history combined with the low expectations placed on the small market Royals have made Soler’s solid start a largely ignored item. You can throw in the fact that Kansas City is out of the gate slowly, with a 2-6 record on Monday morning. Soler is owned in just 31% of Yahoo leagues but does find a home in 46% of CBS leagues. Over at FanTrax, he is getting more run with a much higher 72% ownership rate.
In my Pitcher List Staff League, I decided to jump in when Giancarlo Stanton was injured on April 1, scooping up Soler and plugging him into an active roster spot on most days since. I went with my gut and passed on Josh Bell, among others (I had utility spot flexibility). In April, I’d rather be early than late. If I swing and miss on the wire, there’s still time for another good alternative. Soler is not available in any of my other leagues. Stay watchful for opportunity in your formats, especially in points leagues where batting average may not count.
I’m not even sure if Jorge Soler can still be properly called a post-hype sleeper. But the upside and immense potential are still there. As you would expect, the projection systems are conservative on his ’19 forecasts. ZIPS is ultra pessimistic, no doubt based on Soler’s injury history, calling for just 88 games played. Steamer (129 G) and THE BAT (133 G) are near each other, both calling for a low-20’s home run output and an RBI total hovering near 70.
A healthy season from Soler, thoughhe hasn’t posted one since 2014, could blow those numbers out of the water. A primary DH role would limit his exposure in the outfield and a long stay in the cleanup spot could give you a 30 HR-100 RBI season with teammates getting into scoring position. That line would set fantasy baseball ablaze and change league outcomes for those who get in early enough.
Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire.