Finding A Path Forward for Jorge Soler

I have a confession to make. I’ve always been in love with Jorge Soler as a hitter. With a walk rate over 10 percent and strikeout rate right around 17 percent in the minor leagues, and with his hulking physique and a smile that could light up the entire state of Ohio for a week, how could you not fall head over heels for him? Because of that, it’s with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge that his current playing time situation, as far as we can judge it a few days into the 2016 season—not trusted defensively in the outfield, and getting only occasional starts against lefties—is not good for his development.

As you might imagine, that last sentence was written before Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler collided in left field, causing all Cubs fans to collectively and simultaneously curse and hold their breath. But, despite it looking awful while Schwarber was being hauled off on a cart, the news is as good as we could expect: he has a sprained ankle, x-rays were negative, and the Cubs will give him an MRI today. What looked like it could be an injury of the season-ending variety may be a week, a few weeks, or maybe a bit longer, but things look good for Schwarber to be back in the Cubs lineup at some point in the near future.

The funny thing? After examining how I felt about Soler’s situation after hearing that the Schwarber injury was not as bad as initially expected, I realized I still felt relatively the same about his role on the team, and the lack of playing and development time he looks likely to get right now. If Schwarber is back in the lineup and Soler still hasn’t figured things out, it’s possible that going back to Triple-A to play every day and work on his fielding might be what’s best for him.

I know what a lot of you are thinking, and I want to set the record straight: This isn’t about Matt Szczur. Do I need to repeat myself? Good. Because I want to be clear that I think there is a very real conversation happening around Soler right now, and what happens with him this year will be key in the direction that his career takes. At any rate, if Schwarber is placed on the disabled list then Szczur isn’t going anywhere. People seem to remember that Soler has had injury problems in the past, but the part about him missing a lot of time on the field in his professional career seems to get lost in the conversation. Let me better frame this for you; since signing with the Cubs in 2012, Soler has averaged just 286 plate appearances per season—a total of 1,147 in four years.

That’s certainly not enough to make any judgements on a young hitter, but Soler—much like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Schwarber, and others—has been thrown to the fire in the major leagues. He’s compiled 510 plate appearances with the Cubs since 2014, and it’s been hit and miss. He crushed home runs in St. Louis in September two seasons ago and killed the Cardinals in the playoffs last season, but he also has hit the disabled list twice, struck out more than was expected, and has been brutal in the outfield.

And here we are, with Jason Heyward set to take his spot in right field, Fowler taking center, and Soler stuck fighting for time with Schwarber—once he’s healthy—in left. For Soler, who hit .145/.200/.327 with 14 strikeouts in 55 at-bats in the Cactus League, this is not ideal. He has yet to really look comfortable at the plate and after Schwarber came out of the game last night, Joe Maddon put Bryant out in left and Tommy La Stella at third base rather than bringing in Soler—something that is at least a small commentary on Maddon’s level of trust with Soler right now.

It begs the question—is this the best thing for Soler’s development? I know people don’t like to throw that word around these days with the Cubs prepared to take the world by storm in 2016, but fans have been spoiled by the performances of Bryant, Schwarber, and Russell as key contributors on a contending team. Not every 23-or-24-year-old is ready for Major League Baseball. Is it possible that Soler needs to continue playing on an everyday basis for him to develop?

I’ve written a few times in the last year about the problems with Soler at the plate. Most recently, I detailed his interesting contact rates:

According to Fangraphs, the average in-the-zone contact percentage for a hitter in Major League Baseball is around 87 percent, or pretty close to what Soler actually put up in 2015. And swinging at 34.9 percent of pitches that are thrown outside the strike zone, as Soler did last year, comes in slightly above the average rate of 30 percent, which is perfectly fine by itself. But that’s where we find the real problem for the tall Cuban outfielder. While that same piece at Fangraphs notes that the average contact rate on pitches outside the zone is around 66 percent, Soler makes contact with just 45 percent of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone.

Simply put, Soler’s selection at the plate was a big-time problem for him.”

Some will compare Bryant and Schwarber to Soler, pointing out the success that they’ve had despite relatively short stints in the minors. Bryant only had 773 plate appearances in the minors before coming up and Schwarber just 621, so what’s the big deal with Soler? Well, first of all, while those two went on to play multiple years of college baseball, Soler came over to the United States and signed his nine-year contract with the Cubs, taking a year off from playing in the process.

And then he was in Chicago just two seasons later. In fairness to Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office that decided Soler was ready back in August of 2014, Soler had hit .303/.381/.542 with 28 home runs in 155 career minor league games. It certainly looked, at the time, like he was ready for Chicago.

But it’s a continual process for Soler. He needs to be able to work on his problems at the plate and get comfortable again, and that’s not to mention the need for him to be steady in the field—at least to the point where Joe Maddon can trust him out there. A few weeks down at Triple-A and playing every day in the field might be just what he needs—to gain confidence, get comfortable, and be able to consistently be the guy we all saw at the plate last October.

Lead photo courtesy Gary A. Vasquez—USA Today Sports.

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8 comments on “Finding A Path Forward for Jorge Soler”

Ryan, first off great article and love the insight. I see where you’re coming from but I tend to look at the Soler situation a little differently. I’m a huge fan of his as well and I think he’s right where he needs to be, which is in the big leagues. While in a perfect world I would love to see him playing every day, getting at bats and working on some of the things mentioned above, I think his limited playing time is due to the depth of this team and not so much his development. I think he’s proven he belongs in the big leagues with his play over the last year and a half. I don’t think getting on base 9 consecutive times to start the playoffs was a fluke. That was a product of the maturity Soler has as a 24 year old young star.

In regards to your point about Maddon inserting La Stella last night instead of Soler and that being a concern, I think was again based off of Maddons preference of having a lefty in the lineup to face De la Rosa who had a career .304 OBP to RHB but a .369 OBP to LHB. He wanted to stick with the lefty in that situation.

With this team having so much depth and versatility I suspect Maddon to continue playing the numbers and or the hot hand. However with this injury now to Kyle Schwarber this will be a great opportunity for Soler, Szczur and La Stella to see an increased role in playing time.

I believe this is one of the reasons the team has elected to keep Soler rather than trading him for a starter. Injuries happen and are a big part of the game. With this much depth we won’t really miss a beat with Schwarber out. However we’re obviously better with him than without him.

Lastly, if this were about development my question to you would be, do you think Soler would jump any player in the lineup today if he had say 300 more at bats and 75 more games under his belt in Triple A? My answer would be no. He wouldn’t be playing over Fowler with the way he’s started the season and not over Heyward who they just committed 180 million dollars to so it kind of is what it is at the moment and that is why I think it’s more about this teams enormous amount of depth rather than Soler’s development. It’s a good problem to have especially when injuries to key players happen like the one we saw last night.

Love talking baseball with bright minds of the game so again I respect the article and your opinion and just wanted to share why I look at it just a bit deifferently.

Ryan Davis

I appreciate the thoughtful comment, and I’ll address a few of your points.

I do think La Stella being left-handed and the splits against De La Rosa played a role in him coming into the game, but I don’t think it tells the entire story. That’s why I mentioned that it was, at least in a small way, a commentary on Maddon’s trust of Soler. If the trust was fully there and the LHH really was truly that important, why was Bryant starting? We all know it would be silly not to start him.

To your final point, I don’t think Soler would jump anyone on the depth chart by getting some time in Triple-A and figuring out some of his issues. But that’s not what this is about. He’s far more valuable to the team if he can hit and be trusted in left field on defense. Without further development, through repetitions, I’m not so sure we’ll be able to say that about him. Doing all the things I wrote about might make him better prepared for the part-time role he’s currently looking at in the big leagues right now.

Thank you for reading and again for the thoughtful comment.

To touch on your argument about if Bryant didn’t start it would be silly, but then that would lead me to say that Maddon doesn’t fully trust Schwarber because he wasn’t an automatic start in Gm 2 of the Angels series. We know that isn’t the case.

Again I think all of these guys belong up here (and that’s where we may slightly disagree) there’s just only so much playing time available, and for now the guys who still aren’t automatic locks in the lineup are Soler, Szczur, Schwarber and La Stella but could see them also getting a day or two in place of Heyward/Fowler to let them get a day of rest. In the meantime they’ll continue to get ABs when the situation calls for it.

So to your point, I do agree with you in the sense that Soler could use some extra work, I think though if we make that argument we could then make the case for Schwarber as well (to work on his fielding and catching) although I think Soler could use it more, which is the problem here, because he’s the one being squeezed in this instance. I just don’t think it would be the right thing to do. We are here to win now and every guy on the roster plays a key role in this team going forward.

Ryan Davis

I agree all the players belong, and are good enough. Where I separate Soler is that, currently, I don’t think he’s adjusted enough to handle the role he’s currently set for. Schwarber, on the other hand, has shown an ability to play left field (at least at a reasonable rate, better than Soler) and hit while still sitting a day or two per week.

I think Soler has the ability to handle the role he’s been given and be productive. But I think he needs time to adjust and develop first, and I’m not sure he’s going to get that playing part time. And if he doesn’t, that won’t make him any good in his current role.

Fair enough. Great dialogue! GO Cubs!


GREAT write-up, Ryan. Some real good stats in there about Soler’s swing and miss and you put his situation into perspective really well, as far as his learning curve.

Let’s be honest, though. It’s a least a little bit about Szczur. ;)

Well… Now we get our answer :( not the circumstances we wanted to allow Soler to develop. I guess if any team was made to deal with a major injury to an outfielder it was us, but this one stings. It will definitely be much tougher now. We all wish Kyle a speedy and full recovery. Damn…


Curious what the prognosis for recovery is for something like this. Man alive, this bites. And so early in the season, too.

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