While the on-field product and overall result may be uninspiring for the next several years, the future is undeniably bright for the Chicago Cubs.
Headed into the 2013 season, the organization houses three top-50 prospects in Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
Even though Baez and Almora—the Cubs’ first-round draft picks in 2011 and 2012, respectively—are in the early stages of their promising careers, both players have been relatively known commodities for several years due to their prior status as high-level amateur prospects.
Soler, on the other hand, leaves more to the imagination.
Signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract last June, Soler made his professional debut in the rookie-level Arizona League after not playing in a game since 2010. The effect of the two-year layoff was obvious, as the then 20-year-old batted .241/.328/.389 with two home runs and 13 strikeouts in his first 14 games.
Despite the lackluster production against inferior competition, Soler showcased a collection of raw but projectable tools during his debut. In fact, the pure talent he exhibited in the complex league catered to the belief that the outfielder would be capable of making adjustments after shedding a thick layer of rust.
Based on that assumption, the organization offered him an aggressive promotion to Low-A Peoria to conclude his professional debut. And sure enough, Soler responded favorably by batting .338/.398/.513 with three home runs and a 6/6 K/BB over 20 games.
Even though Soler’s production should be interpreted with a grain of salt given the small sample size, the loud tools he showcased are very real and give him the highest ceiling of all the Cubs’ highly-regarded prospects.
Ranked as the No. 42 overall prospect headed into the upcoming season, Soler is a physical specimen at 6’3”, 205 pounds with a mature frame that requires minimal future projection. Considering his size, the 21-year-old is an above-average runner who showcases more athleticism than one would expect. Even if he adds thickness to his already strong lower half, he should have no problem remaining in right field where his plus arm strength is also a clean fit.
However, it’s Soler’s bat that makes him a potential impact player. With exceptional bat speed and a leveraged path through the zone, Soler’s 70-grade raw power is both effortless and robust. More importantly, his relatively mature approach and plate discipline suggests that its utility will continue to improve as he matures.
The only lingering uncertainty regarding Soler is how his hit tool will translate at more advanced levels, including the major leagues. Although his swing is sound and powerful, the right-handed hitter is yet to be tested against quality pitching—something that may not happen until he reaches Double-A.
Therefore, while the slightly inefficient components of his swing have flown under the radar thus far, there’s a greater chance moving forward that they will be exploited throughout his ascension in the Cubs’ system.
When all is said and done, Soler has the ceiling of an All-Star right fielder capable of launching 25-plus home runs over a full season. And while power will always be his calling card, both his defense and secondary skills could ultimately surpass expectations.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that Soler is currently all tools and projection. The 21-year-old will always showcase loads of power; whether he’s able to reach his ceiling will depend on the development of his other tools—more specifically, the hit tool. If it matures steadily, as hoped, then the young Cuban could turn out to be the real deal.
But until Soler has a few seasons in the major leagues under his belt, expectations inevitably will be lofty, to say the least. So, rather than becoming overly invested in his minor-league production during upcoming seasons, it’ll be more important to gauge his development and future projection relative to the adjustments he makes along the way.
Soler has the makings of a very good, maybe even great player for the Cubs. But at the same time, he’s anything but a surefire big leaguer, as he’ll be forced to overcome the considerable gap between his present ability and future potential.
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