You wouldn’t expect a team with five straight seasons of at least 87 losses to be all the rage heading into a new season. The Chicago Cubs, however, have worked hard to be an exception.

They’ve recently added an elite manager in Joe Maddon, as well as quality veteran talent in Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler. These moves were designed to make the Cubs a contender in 2015, and now one gets the sense that most everyone thinks the impending arrival of Kris Bryant will be what officially gives them the green light.

But the Cubs’ chances of living up to the hype in 2015 hinge just as much, if not more, on another young player who’s already embedded in the team’s plans:

Jorge Soler.

Relative to Chicago’s shiny new additions and Bryant’s looming presence, Soler really hasn’t gotten much attention during the buildup to the Cubs’ 2015 season. This is despite how:

  1. He’s already slated to be the Cubs’ starting right fielder.
  2. He has the kind of talent to be a major difference-maker.

To that second point, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and’s Keith Law all have the 23-year-old Cuban ranked within baseball’s top 22 prospects. 

It also helps that Soler looked the part of a superprospect in 2014. He tore through the minors before making an impressive MLB debut, which included an insane five-game stretch at the very beginning. In all, his season looked like this:

About the only thing that went wrong in Soler‘s 2014 were a pair of hamstring strains that kept him sidelined for a good chunk of time. Otherwise, he was a menace everywhere he went. 

This is normally where there’s a word of caution about taking what’s on the table with a grain of salt, but the projections for Soler‘s 2015 season are surprisingly optimistic.

The PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus and the Steamer projections at FanGraphs expect Soler to flirt with 25 home runs and an OPS in the high .700s. Because these are part of overall projections that have the Cubs contending in the NL Central, the takeaway is that they’re truly going to need Soler to live up to his potential to be relevant in 2015.

That’s a lot to ask of a 23-year-old with only 97 major league plate appearances, to be sure. But the deeper you dive into the book on Soler, the more it sounds like he should be up to the challenge.

The projections for Soler don’t call for him to be an average or OBP merchant. PECOTA and Steamer both have his average pegged for the .260 range, and his OBP pegged for slightly below .320.

Rather, both systems expect power to be his primary strength. And though they’re certainly not, it’s almost as if they’re basing that prediction off the book on Soler.

No matter which scouting report you turn to, you’re going to find praise for Soler‘s immense raw power and what makes it possible. Specifically: insane bat speed packed into an explosive swing that easily generates loud contact. And while that loud contact can go to all fields, Baseball Prospectus remark that he “punishes middle-in” pitches gives him a particularly intriguing pull-power profile.

It’s hard to sum all this up with moving images. But here, these do the trick pretty well:

The hack Soler took there looks awesome enough enough when viewed as a whole sequence. But if you really want to get the gist about how quick a bat is and how easily a hitter can turn on the ball, sometimes it helps to narrow things down to a single image.

For example, this one:

That pitch really wasn’t far off from being chin music. That Soler managed to hit it is impressive enough. That he hit it well over 400 feet is absurd.

But as nice as it would be to geek out over Soler‘s sheer physical talent, that’s only going to get a hitter so far in the majors. A hitter’s approach ultimately determines how good he’s going to be, and that’s more of a gray area with Soler.

It doesn’t look very good that Soler struck out in 24.7 percent of his major league plate appearances last year. That speaks of an overaggressive approach, and his plate discipline figures at FanGraphs don’t exactly dispel the idea. He wasn’t particularly good at keeping his swings confined to the strike zone, and he had issues making contact when he did expand the zone.

Further, Brooks Baseball can show that the bulk of Soler‘s strikeouts came on breaking balls, which corresponds with one of Baseball Prospectus‘ concerns about Soler‘s struggles to “adjust to spin.”

Another concern is his ability to adjust to pitches away from him, and his batting average heat map from 2014 shows that concern to be well founded:

If we can see all this, you can bet that catchers, pitchers and pitching coaches can see it too. The plan of attack against Soler in 2015 could will likely involve a lot of pitches away from him and a lot of breaking balls. If he fails to adjust, he could find himself whiffing his way back to the minors.

But here’s the thing: The aggressive Soler who showed up last year might not be the real Soler.

On the contrary, you can look at what he did in the minors last year and see a more reasonable 20.3 percent strikeout rate. Next to that is a 14.0 percent walk rate, a mark reached by only four major league hitters.

The stats thus make Soler out to be more advanced than he made himself look in his taste of the majors, and it’s not hard to find scouting reports that agree.

This is from

[Soler] recognizes pitches and works counts well, so he should hit for average. He makes more consistent contact than Javy Baez and Kris Bryant, two other prodigious sluggers with whom he rose through the Cubs system.

And this is from Keith Law:

Soler wasn’t patient in the majors, but he had been so in the minors, and I expect that skill to return as he gains experience in the majors and stops trying to recreate what he did in those first five games.

According to Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago, Soler‘s new skipper also likes what he sees.

“Here’s a big guy with some pop that could make good decisions at the plate,” said Maddon. “He’s just not up there hacking or swinging, which is kind of unusual. A lot of the young Latin kids will come up and plate discipline is not part of the game. You’re not going to walk and get off the rock.

“They come up swinging all the time and this is a guy that’s a little bit more mature in his approach to hitting. I’m really eager to see that.”

To the extent that he may be more advanced than he let on at first, it’s fair to highlight Cuban countryman Yasiel Puig as a potential comp for Soler.

Though Puig has a reputation as a wild swinger that he often lives up to, realistically, he’s gotten a lot better at taking good swings and at adjusting to how pitchers are attacking him. Soler could very well slide into the same mold.

If he does, getting the better of Soler won’t be as simple as pounding him away and feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls. That could at least lead to the kind of consistency he’ll need to live up to the power potential the projections expect of him and might allow him to do even better.

All of this is to say nothing of what Soler could provide on defense in right field. Though he doesn’t have the speed to have plus range, he has more than enough arm strength. It’s possible that he’ll provide above-average defense to go with his above-average offense, making him one of the league’s better right fielders.

So though Soler hasn’t been a particularly big topic of conversation in the buildup to the 2015 season, he should be. The Cubs are already expecting him to play a role in getting them back to respectability, and we have plenty that says he’s not going to let them down.


Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Read more MLB news on