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Just How Good Can Cubs' Cuban Outfield Phenom Jorge Soler Be?

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Just How Good Can Cubs' Cuban Outfield Phenom Jorge Soler Be?
Al Behrman/AP Images

Amid yet another losing season, a streak that soon will run to five straight, the Chicago Cubs unveiled yet another new toy Wednesday night: top prospect Jorge Soler.

A 22-year-old native of Cuba, Soler made his much-anticipated major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds and did so with some flair, homering in his very first plate appearance in the bigs.

"I'm real, real happy about it," Soler told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com after the game. "First time in the big leagues, first at-bat. I was very excited and happy about that."

This is the swing—his first-ever as a Cub—that brought out those feelings:

Soler joined fellow elite prospect-turned-rookie Javier Baez as the second first-year player to homer in his initial game with the Cubs this season. The duo made some history, too, given how very young they are to be hitting balls over walls in their very first game:

As the video evidence shows, Soler smashed a high 90 mph fastball on a 2-1 count from right-hander Mat Latos to left center in the top of the second inning and put the Cubs up 2-0. The long ball was of the back-to-back variety, as Luis Valbuena led off the inning with his own solo shot to open the scoring.

Although the Cubs would go on to lose the game, 7-5, Soler's performance—which also included an RBI single in the eighth off a Jonathan Broxton 92 mph heater to bring Chicago within a run at the time—provided a glimpse of his potential.

So now that he's arrived a little more than two years after signing a nine-year, $30 million contract as an international free agent from Cuba in June 2012, how good can Soler be?

Well, for one thing, he's the real deal as a prospect. Soler is a physical specimen, checking in at 6'4" and 215 pounds. He also put up a triple-slash line of .340/.432/.700 with 40 extra-base hits, including 15 homers, in just 62 games between Rookie, Double- and Triple-A this year.

Cubs president Theo Epstein offered this assessment of Soler, per Muskat:

He's always hit the ball hard, he's always controlled the zone, but now he's hitting the ball hard with loft and elevation. His ground balls have become line drives, his line drives have become fly balls, and his fly balls tend to leave the ballpark. He's a really dangerous hitter. When he's right, he can use the whole field and loft the ball with ease.

Consider: At the time of his debut, Soler's 1.132 OPS in the minors actually was slightly higher than that of Kris Bryant, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft and sports a 1.113 OPS.

Yet another 22-year-old position-player phenom who will be joining Soler and Baez in Chicago soon enough, Bryant currently leads all of baseball with 43 home runs in his first full professional season.

This isn't to say that Soler is better or even more ready for The Show than Bryant, who might not debut until early next season, despite his utter domination of the minors' two highest levels. But it does put Soler's statistics into perspective.

Granted, Soler put up those numbers in just 62 games because he missed most of the first half of the year while battling hamstring issues.

That's part of the reason behind the promotion, as Epstein told Muskat:

The key to the decision on Soler was the fact that he was going to be a September call-up for us mainly because he needs the at-bats. He missed significant time because of the hamstring injury. He needs to play, he needs to get the at-bats.

We've been certain in our minds for a while now that he was going to be a September callup for us. It's the best place for him to continue to get at-bats, continue to learn, continue to make adjustments.

Speaking of learning and making adjustments, Soler had been doing his share of that with none other than Manny Ramirez.

Now 42, the former Boston Red Sox great is a right-handed hitter, like Soler, Baez and Bryant, and he has been a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa since the organization decided to hire him in late May to work with its young core of elite prospects.

As Muskat notes, Ramirez gave Soler some last-minute advice before the youngster moved on up: "[Ramirez said], 'Everything you've been doing here in Triple-A, do it over there,'" Soler said. "Don't change anything. He knows how hard it is the first day and said, 'Relax, and everything will be all right.'"

So far, so good.

That said, Soler is going to go through a transition and adjustment period, like any young player making his way to the majors.

Here's Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America, which ranked Soler as its No. 5 prospect prior to the season:

...because of injuries and two suspensions in 2013, [Soler] has only 544 minor league at-bats, so his learning curve, especially in the majors, is going to be greater than that of Baez, who’s showing power but striking out nearly 50 percent of the time, or even Bryant, who has college experience behind him.

In other words, expect Soler to be really good but probably not right away—his first game notwithstanding.

Getting back to Wednesday's performance, Soler played right field and hit fifth in the order, which should offer an idea of what type of hitter the club expects him to be, namely a powerful one.

Soler's right-handed swing and two-handed follow-through are reminiscent of Torii Hunter, who also debuted at 22 years old back in 1997 and is still going strong as the Detroit Tigers' right fielder in what is his 18th season (.279/.334/.465).

For comparison, here's a look at four swings by Hunter, who has had one of the better careers in the sport over the past two decades with more than 2,200 hits and 300 home runs:

Admittedly, there's more than a little hype surrounding Soler at the moment, especially in light of his impressive first game. While it's easy to get swept up right now, ultimately Soler will show how good he will be. That's not something that can be determined in the final 30 games of another meaningless season on the North Side.

That said, the Cubs are showing faith in their young core by bringing up Arismendy Alcantara, Baez and now Soler to get an idea of what they can do and prepare them for 2015. That's when the performance of Soler and company will really start to matter.

After all, making it to the majors is only part of finding out how good Soler can be. He has proved he's just about ready. Now he has to prove he's good enough to stay.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Aug. 27 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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