Jorge Soler

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JorgeSoler.JPG

Jorge Carlos Soler Castillo

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 4", Weight 215-230 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

OF Jorge Soler signed with the Chicago Cubs on June 11, 2012 after defecting from Cuba. His 9-year contract worth $30 million came a few weeks before a change of rules governing international signings went into effect; this created a bidding war for the most talented international players available to be signed as amateur free agents at the time. In spite of his large contract, Soler began his professional career in the United States in the lower minors.

Soler played for Cuba in the 2010 World Junior Championship, where he first caught the attention of American scouts, even though he did not have a particularly outstanding tournament. He only played for one month for La Habana in the Serie Nacional, Cuba's top professional league, before being suspended for trying to defect. He was only 19 years old and without much of a track record when he did defect, in late 2011, but was considered a five-tool talent comparable to a top-5 pick in the amateur draft. Given the particularly auspicious environment in which he became available for signing by major league teams, he was pursued agressively by a number of teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers before taking the Cubs' offer, which was reportedly worth $5 million more than any of the others on the table. While Soler had tremendous upside, the signing was considered much riskier than that of a number of fellow Cubans who had had a chance to prove their mettle in the Serie Nacional or with the Cuban national team in international competition.

Soler began his professional career with the AZL Cubs in 2012, hitting .241 in 14 games. He then moved to the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League, where he did a lot better, hitting .338 in 20 games. Altogether, his season ended with a combined batting line of .299/.369/.463, with 7 doubles, 5 homers, 28 runs scored and 25 RBI in the 34 games. He also went 12 for 13 in stolen base attempts. After the season, Baseball America put him at number 34 on its top 100 prospects list. The Cubs promoted Soler to the Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League to start the 2013 season. On April 10th, he made headlines around the country when he stormed the opposite dugout with a bat in the 7th inning of a game against the Clearwater Threshers; it was in retaliation for being spiked while sliding into second base in an attempt to break up a double play earlier in the inning. Both benches cleared as a result of the original incident, but no punches were thrown; however, when order was restored, Soler grabbed a bat and headed towards the dugout, wielding it, before being restrained by coach Mariano Duncan and teammate Javier Baez. He was promptly ejected and faced a suspension as a result of his tantrum. He had started the year red hot and was hitting .435 at that point, with a pair of homers in 6 games. He received a five-game suspension from the league for his outburst. He ended up playing only 55 games for Daytona, with a batting line of .281/.343/.467, 8 homers and 35 RBI, his season ending on June 17th because of a strained left calf.

Soler had more injury problems in 2014, injuring his leg in his first game with the Tennessee Smokies on April 3rd. He had to make a rehabilitation stint back with the AZL Cubs, but hit .415 with 8 homers and 22 RBIs in 22 games with Tennessee, showing the sort of excellence the Cubs had been looking for since they had signed him. He was promoted to the AAA Iowa Cubs on July 24th, where he hit .278/.376/.593 in 31 games. On August 25th, the Cubs announced that he was being promoted to the majors, the latest in a series of top prospects, including former minor league teammate Baez, to be added to the roster of the last-place club that season. In his debut against the Cincinnati Reds on August 27th, he did Baez one better by homering in his first career at-bat, taking Mat Latos deep in the 2nd inning with a solo blast to center, on the heels of another homer by Luis Valbuena; Baez had waited until extra innings to homer in his debut. Soler added an RBI single later in the game to finish 2-for-4, but the Cubs still lost, 7-5. Before him, Starlin Castro had been the last Cubs player to go deep in his first major league at-bat, in 2010. In his third game on August 29th, he homered twice in a 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals; he joined Baez in having a multi-homer game within his first three major league games. As he had another extra base hit and RBI in his fourth career game, he became the first player to have done so since RBI became an official statistic in 1920. He ended the year with a batting average of .292 in 24 games, with 8 doubles, 5 homers, 11 runs and 20 RBIs, good for an OPS+ of 145.

Soler won the Cubs' starting right field job in 2015. He was hitting .265 after 49 games on June 1st when he was sidelined with an ankle sprain. He was out until July 5th. He suffered another injury on August 23rd, this time a left oblique strain, and went back to the disabled list, coming back on September 18th. As a result of the missed time, he was a bit under the radar as rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell got all the publicity as the Cubs surged to a postseason slot. In 101 games, he hit .262 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs. He hit quite well in the postseason, combining to go 9 for 19 (.474) with 3 doubles and 3 homers, 6 runs scored and 5 RBIs as Chicago made it to the NLCS before bowing out to the New York Mets. In 2016, the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to a huge contract to play right field. With Dexter Fowler back in ceter field, Jorge shared left field with a number of other players, although he got more playing time there than anyone else on the team. In 86 games, e hit .238 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. In the postseason, however, it was Ben Zobrist who started in left field every day, which left Jorge with crumbs of playing time in right field and as a pinch-hitter. He had a total of 13 at-bats over the three rounds of the postseason, getting only 2 hits, both in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. He was part of Chicago's historic championship-winning team, although obviously he was far from the center of the action. With Kyle Schwarber set to return from an ankle injury that had cost him almost the entire 2016 season, it was not clear whether there was a role for Jorge going forward. This question was answered on December 8th when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals in return for closer Wade Davis.

The Royals were counting on Soler to be a big part of the team in 2017, but they got some bad news in spring training as he strained an oblique muscle during a minor league game on March 26th, forcing him to the disabled list for the start of the season. He ended up playing just 35 games and hit a paltry .244 with 2 homers and 6 RBIs. In 2018, he improved somewhat, but his season was still cut short to 65 games. At least, he was productive when he was able to take the field, with an OPS+ of 123 thanks to 18 doubles and 9 homers, for a slugging percentage of .542. Still he was a bit of a forgotten man when 2019 started, and with the Royals not expected to compete, he went completely under the radar as he shattered the team's single-season home run record of 38 set by Mike Moustakas in 2017. He equaled his mark by the end of August and hit #39 on September 3rd. He also collected his 100th RBI in that game, becoming the first Royal to do so since Eric Hosmer in 2016. He reached 40 homers the next day. He finished the year with a league-leading 48 homers, and was one of four players in the circuit to play all 162 games. He hit .265 with 117 RBIs, but also led the league with 178 strikeouts.

Like many other hitters, Soler saw his numbers fall badly during the shortened 2020 season, as he hit just .228 with 8 homers and 24 RBIs in 43 games. The numbers were better than they looked superficially, as teams only played 60 games, meaning that hardly anyone put up impressive counting stats, and batting averages were down across baseball. As a result, his OPS+ of 108 was still good, if significantly below the ones he had put up the previous two years. Still, he was tied for third on the Royals in homers, behind C Salvador Perez, who had a great comeback season after having missed all of 2019, and Whit Merrifield, usually known as a singles hitter with speed, and not as a power threat (he was also tied with 3B Maikel Franco). His RBI total also fell below the same three players, and he also struck out 60 times. So he was definitely looking for a bounce back season heading into 2021. That did not happen as he hit .198 in 94 games, with 13 homers and 37 RBIs. HIs OPS+ in that span was 79, but he was hitting better by July, with a slugging percentage of .561 during the month, after his batting average was at .178 and his slugging at .314 at the end of May. On July 30th, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves who essentially got themselves a brand new outfield in the span of two weeks, trading for Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall in addition to Jorge. They gave up P Kasey Kalich to add the former home run champ. He continued to hit well for Atlanta and interestingly was used regularly as the team's lead-off hitter, as the club lacked a true lead-off type following the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuna. He batted .269 in 55 games for the Braves, with 14 homers and 33 RBIs, for an OPS+ of 128. Overall for the year, that gave him a line of .223 in 149 games, with 27 homers and 70 RBIs, for an OPS+ of 97. He then became one of the heroes of the Braves' conquest of a first World Series title since 1995, even though he did not do much in the first two rounds, picking up one hit - a double each time - in each of the first two series. The Braves had four outfielder to fill three spots, and when Pederson, who had drawn the short straw before the Division Series, shined as a pinch-hitter in those games, he was promoted to the starting line-up for the NLCS with Jorge, who had gone 1 for 11, now being used as a pinch-hitter. In the World Series however, with the Designated hitter in effect in road games, Soler was back in the line-up immediately connected for a homer off Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros to lead off Game 1 on October 26th and set the tone for the whole series. He ended up starting five of the six games and connecting twice more for long balls, including once as a pinch-hitter against Cristian Javier at a key moment in Game 4 and was named World Series MVP when the Braves eliminated Houston in six games. He went 6 for 20 with one double and the three homers, scored 4 times and drove in 6 runs.

Following the Braves' World Series win, they found themselves with a glut of outfielders, as both Acuna and Marcell Ozuna, starters in the early part of the season, were slated to return. As a result, they focussed on re-signing Rosario and Duvall, and let Pederson and Soler look for new homes. For Jorge, it took until March 19, 2022 to find a team, the 2021-2022 lockout having delayed things by a full three months, but he reached a three-year deal with the Miami Marlins worth $36 million, with a possible opt-out after year one or year two if his renaissance proves to be real.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Christina De Nicola: "World Series MVP Soler agrees with Marlins (source)", mlb.com, March 19, 2022. [1]
  • Jeffrey Flanagan: "Soler ready for everyday work with Royals: Outfielder sizes up new threads in KC introduction", mlb.com, December 13, 2016. [2]
  • Matt Kelly: "Biggest steal of '21 Deadline? Ask Atlanta", mlb.com, August 7, 2021. [3]
  • Adam McCalvy: "Soler clears train tracks, hauls in Series MVP: Midseason acquisition powers Braves to title with 3 HRs, 1.191 OPS in WS", mlb.com, November 3, 2021. [4]
  • Mike Petriello: "There's never been a leadoff hitter like Soler", mlb.com, September 24, 2021. [5]
  • Phil Rogers: "Cubs appear to have a bargain in Soler", mlb.com, February 22, 2015. [6]

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