Braves 2021 Player Review: Jorge Soler

I’ve written a whole lot of words about a journeyman outfielder with a sub-.800 OPS who’s about to turn 30 and who has spent a grand total of 66 games in an Atlanta uniform.

But oh, what games they were.

If you’ll pardon the self-plagiarism (which I once dubbed “me-cycling”), here’s a précis on the big fella.

Born on February 25, 1992, and built like a Greek statue, Jorge Soler was a major target as a 20-year-old free agent. It was an exciting bidding war, because it was the last year before teams were capped on their spending on international free agents. The Cubs got him with a 9-year, $30 million contract, and apparently the Braves were neck and neck with them:

I presciently predicted that the Cubs’ terrible player development staff would screw up and that he would fail to achieve success with the Cubs despite his obvious tools:

Great! I’m sure that they’ll do a great job with him, like they have with their other international free agent outfielders (Fukudome) and toolsy farm products (Pie, Patterson, Roosevelt Brown).

By far the best outfielder that they’ve drafted in the last two decades is Doug Glanville, drafted in 1991, and they traded him to the Phillies for a 32-year old Mickey Morandini. Other than that, their only successful outfield draftees in the last 20 years are Patterson, Tyler Colvin, and Sam Fuld. And by successful, I mean more than 1 career Win Above Replacement.

I bet Soler will work out for them.

* Sorry, Pie was also signed as an international free agent.

He had a brilliant minor league career, .286/.382/.530 in 242 games all told, and was ranked as BA’s #12 prospect in 2015, but he struggled to break into the Cubs outfield.

As I commented a few months ago, the Cubs had what seemed at the time an embarrassment of riches in the outfield: free agents Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward, and top prospects Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ knocking on the door, with Arismendy Alcantara a recent prospect flop.

Soler struggled to break in, but as I’d predicted back in 2012, all the other outfield prospects struggled too: Almora and Alcantara are busts, and Happ and Schwarber have had lots of ups and downs though they both still have their believers. If any of them ever become a star, it’s almost certain to be outside the North Side.

Overall, across parts of three seasons in Chicago, amid all the injuries and overcrowding, Soler raked in the minors but hit .258/.328/.434 in the majors. He mostly came off the bench during their championship run in 2016, collecting five plate appearances each in the LDS and LCS (no hits and a walk both times), and getting a triple and a single in six tries in the World Series.

Admittedly, that wasn’t his only postseason in Chicago. Going 2-13 while his teammates won the World Series must have been disappointing, but the previous year he’d been otherworldly in October. While the Mets swept the Cubs out of the LCS, Soler was nearly the only Cub who had hit: his five hits were a quarter of the team’s total, and his three XBH were one-third of the team total.

Overall during the 2015 playoffs, Soler hit .474/.600/1.105 with three doubles, three homers, and six walks in 25 plate appearances against the Cardinals and Mets. The next year, Soler recorded only two postseason hits in 13 PA across three playoff series, all of which the Cubs won, as they hoisted their first trophy in over a century.

So, by the end of 2016, his potential was tantalizing, his physique was breathtaking and his batting practice power was jawdropping. But the collective results were still mediocre. It looked like I was right.

He was still just 24, and on an inexpensive contract, so the Cubs made the best of the hash they’d made of things, and they traded him to Kansas City for star closer Wade Davis. Davis was great for the Cubs in his sole season for them in 2017, but Soler had a truly miserable year, suffering from an oblique injury and hitting just .144/.245/.258 in the majors, then going back and raking in Triple-A while Melky Cabrera and Jorge Bonifacio hoovered up playing time in the Show.

The next year was a painful step in the right direction. In the first two and a half months of the season, he finally started to do in the majors what he had long done in the minors: he put together a .265/.354/.466 batting line while mostly serving as the team’s everyday right fielder. Then he broke his toe and missed the rest of the year.

Six years into the Cubs’ original nine-year contract, Jorge Soler was a tantalizing promise, but he wasn’t a particularly successful ballplayer. And then in 2019, of course, he did the two things he had never really done before: he stayed on the field and played all 162 games, and not coincidentally, he also led the American league in homers with 48.

And then… well, 2020 sucked a lot. Lots of guys had a couple of iffy months. Doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, but Soler did too. And, after a whole career’s worth of missed expectations and hype, he may have felt like a one-hit wonder rather than a late-blooming star who was just going through a slump. Through 94 games in 2021, Jorge Soler hit .192/.288/.370, and that brought his career totals, through the middle of his eighth major league season, to this:

606 games, 2345 plate appearances, .243/.328/.459

The Royals decided to trade Jorge Soler for a reliever again, which handed him just the can of spinach he needed. You know what happened next. He hit .269/.358/.524 in the 2021 stretch run, very close to what he’d done in 2019, with 14 homers in 55 regular-season games.

Then he slumped through the NLDS, caught covid, and came back to set the world on fire in the World Series, with six hits (two singles, a double, and three homers) in the World Series, and some nice WS MVP hardware.

He finally fulfilled the potential the scouts had identified in him a decade before. Which he had sort of previously fulfilled in the 2015 playoffs and the 2019 season, too, before slumps and injuries sent him back to square one.

So quo vadis, y’all?

A while back, I spent a fair amount of time comparing him to Ozuna (as a hitter only — I’m unaware of any domestic violence allegations against Soler). They’re both injury-prone RH sluggers with questionable defense and only a couple of good seasons to their names.

The Jorge Soler who we’ve seen in much of 2019-2021 is certainly worthy of a long-term contract. And it’s hard to see the Braves tendering him one. I could certainly see AA offering him a one-year deal, as he is often wont to do. And he may try the same with Rosario, and simply see who bites.

Of course, if I were a team like the Mets — a team with far more money than sense, and vastly more holes in their lineup than they know what to do with — I would certainly consider backing up the money truck for Soler. His history of injuries gives one pause, as does his long history of mediocre performance.

But did you see what he did to that ball in the World Series? Can you tell me you wouldn’t like to see more of that?

12 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Jorge Soler”

  1. There are two ways to think about baseball (actually, there are about 987, which is what makes it so fascinating) time scales. On the one hand, you have the joys of watching Chipper Jones or Freddie Freeman rise from the larval stage to full-fledged superstar all the while wearing your laundry. He is an Atlanta Brave and he explains your otherwise mysterious attraction to people hitting a round ball with a round stick and either running to first or doing whatever it was Pablo Sandoval did.

    On the other hand, there is the instant high of watching a hot player be hot for you, even if has heretofore been plying his arts elsewhere, This might be for three months (Peterson, Soler) two months (Rosario) a year (Gary Sheffield) or even one at-bat (Francisco Cabrera). All you really want is for the next guy up to get a hit, no matter where he came form, how long he’s going to stay, or where he’s going.

    I leave to those paid to do so the hard decisions of whom to pursue and whom to temporarily exploit. (Not that I can’t have opinions… they just aren’t worth much.) And I should leave to Alex the task of putting those feats in context, coz he’s much better at it than I am.

  2. This isn’t the same as having more defensive value because range is more important than surehandedness, but I was less nervous when the ball was hit in Soler’s direction than when it was hit to Pederson or Rosario. It seemed like both of the latter took poor routes and/or misplayed the ball more often than most OFs, though they caught it anyway many of those times. Soler seemed pretty reliable as long as he could get there, and my impression of his defense was that it was a bit below average but not so bad that you couldn’t live with it.

    A quick glance at BRef’s fielding numbers (which I don’t fully understand) suggests that Pederson is around average for the OF positions he’s played, while Rosario and Soler are below average but not in Klesko/Luzinski territory. Of course Pederson has played a lot of CF, while Soler has almost exclusively been a RF/DH and Rosario a LF.

    One of my pleasant minor memories of 2021 was when Soler was being interviewed after a win and Heredia ran into the picture doing Heredia things and Soler laughed and said (I believe switching briefly into English) that Heredia had been the same when they played as teenagers in Cuba, always crazy. Soler just seemed so happy and at ease.

  3. I don’t know if Seitzer helped Soler find more barrels, but his hard contact that was already there with KC became hard contact that found grass and bleachers. For me, Seitzer and Wash are irreplaceable due to the abundant growth of a large group of players under their tutelage.

  4. Fun:

    Funner:

    Funnest:

  5. Mr. Remington,

    I had not stopped to comment earlier, but again a magnificently written piece. It allows us to glory in what was and what could be with Soler, while also allowing us to cringe as to the not so good that could happen with an extension. Hard guy to figure.

  6. Thanks, man! On the grand principle of it ain’t my money, I’d love to see him back.

  7. @7 – My instincts could be wrong, and they often are, but I believe there is more incentive to play ball in 2022 for both owners and players than either wants to admit. I believe real money was lost in 2020 and neither wants to lose that much or more again.

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