Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell might get the most attention in a loaded Cubs prospect class, but Jorge Soler, who hit five home runs in 24 games with the big-league club last season, isn't far behind. With Baez no longer considered a prospect, Baseball Prospectus ranks Soler No. 3 on the Cubs list (and No. 19 overall), ahead of 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora and 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber.
Soler, who defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic, was signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, and, at the time, only Yoenis Cespedes had secured a larger contract for a Cuban-born player. Soler battled some nagging injuries while in the minor leagues, and he even got in a brush up here and there, but the right fielder steadily rose throughout the Cubs farm system.
Soler never hit worse than .281 at any one level, spending last year across four different levels of professional baseball after missing much of the first half. Once healthy, he slashed .415/.494/.862 with six home runs in 22 games at Double-A, followed by .282/.378/.618 with eight home runs in 32 games at Triple-A. In five minor-league seasons, Soler hit .305/.384/.548 with 28 home runs in 163 games.
Once in Chicago, Soler wasted no time with a home run in his first career at-bat against the Reds Mat Latos on Aug. 27, clearing Great American Ballpark's bullpen in center field. He finished his big-league cup of coffee with a .292 BA and a slugging percentage of .573, hitting five home runs with 20 RBI in 97 plate appearances.
Soler still has some work to do defensively, but there's no questioning his offensive prowess on a baseball field. In the Fake Teams Consensus Rankings, the FT staff ranked Soler as the No. 39 fantasy outfielder with a high mark of 27 (twice) and a low of 91. Four rankers, including myself, ranked Soler between 27 and 30. In NESN.com's NFBC Average Draft Position, Soler is the No. 35 outfielder with an ADP of 123.82, making him an early 10th-rounder in a 12-team mixed league.
Along with Jason Hunt, I was the highest on Soler and see big things for the Cubs massive right fielder. And early reports from spring are Soler, listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds a year ago, is an even more massive 242 pounds in early March. Some of that weight will shed off under the hot Arizona sun, but his gains are an eye-popping but welcoming sight for someone already described as "freakishly big" to start.
While all eyes were on the quick hands of Baez in 2014, Soler went about his business with three home runs in his first three games, including two moon shots against St. Louis on Aug. 29. Soler finished his 24-game "audition" in Chicago with a 24.7 percent strikeout rate and 6.2 percent walk rate. Soler's big swing will lead to strikeouts, but he showed a much better eye in the minor leagues, compiling walk rates of 15.2 and 13.4 percent in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively.
It's worth noting that Soler did struggle a bit down the stretch last year after his torrid start. After hitting three home runs in his first four games, Soler hit .243/.284/.432 with two home runs in his final 20. Given Soler's relatively quick adjustments at each level of professional baseball, the confidence of him doing at the major-league level should be high, but the small sample size of 636 plate appearances, including a total of 333 last year, is of some concern.
Soler's big-time power will play at the big-league level, as we've already seen, and I expect him to approach 26-30 home runs in 2015. If he stays healthy, he'll blow past his Steamer projection of .262, 24 home runs and 78 RBI in 130 games. I expect Rizzo to finish with better overall numbers in 2015, but no one on the Cubs will be a better value.