The Royals optioned Jorge Soler to Triple-A for the second time this season yesterday. That’s typically not a great sign for the player acquired in exchange for one of your better pitchers over the last three seasons. And while Soler hasn’t done himself any favors by hitting .154/.245/.275 with just two home runs in 102 plate appearances, I don’t think he’s had any favors done for him either. I’m not ready to write off or give up on Soler just yet, and I don’t think the Royals should either.
In what we can only hope is prescient now, many people at the time of the trade believed that Soler would struggle in 2017 trying to prove his worth and his value in the trade. The belief at the time was that he would be better after 2017. You can make all the arguments you want that it isn’t great for a guy who you hope to be a mainstay in the middle of the lineup to have what appears to be that fragile of a psyche, but as I force myself to remember as often as possible, these are human beings as well.
What I like about Soler as a player is that he understands the strike zones. In his rookie season, he swung at 27.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. In his second season, that jumped to a still reasonable 30.9 percent and then fell last year to 27 percent and this year to 25.1 percent. His ability to differentiate a ball from a strike is what gives me hope. The issue is that he looks like Pedro Cerrano far too often and can’t handle a breaking ball, swinging through them far too often.
One thing that stands out to me is that in the first three years of his career (granted it’s just 765 plate appearances), Soler posted a .258/.328/.434 line for a .762 OPS. The man the Royals trust with the cleanup spot in their lineup came into this season with a .277/.335/.428 line for a .763 OPS. I fully recognize the sample size issues and all that, but I think it’s at least worth noting when talking about Soler and his development.
Maybe he truly is a AAAA player. He certainly wouldn’t be the first slugger to look like a budding superstar in the minors and then falter in the big leagues, but the thing that I always come back to is that he has fewer plate appearances in the minors than he does in the majors. He’s a .290/.404/.602 hitter in AAA and an even crazier .337/.455/.642 hitter in AA. Maybe he really just does need a little more time to cook. I feel like sometimes there’s this ideal that a player should be at this level by this age or he’s considered a failure. And yes, a guy is not likely to be a superstar if he’s still having to put in work in the minors when he’s in his mid-20s, but I think it’s okay if not everyone is a superstar, as long as they can become a productive big league player.
On the flip side, the Royals are notoriously patient with players at the big league level. This is pure speculation, but maybe there’s something Soler has done that has rubbed the organization the wrong way and they want to see him work on whatever that is in the minors. And, it very well could be that maybe the Royals believe they’ve made a mistake in their evaluation of Soler and would like to get rid of him at the first opportunity they have.
If that’s the case, sending him to the minor leagues is a pretty smart move. We all know he can and likely will rake in the minors. That allows him to potentially rebuild some trade value and he can be included in a deal for a cost-controlled starting pitcher if a team believes that they can be the ones to get the best of Soler. That’s not the worst idea either. I remember when there was outrage about not bringing up Wil Myers at the end of the 2012 season when Jeff Francoeur was struggling in right field. I was part of the crew holding the pitchforks. When someone told me that they thought the Royals were leaving Myers in Triple-A to keep his trade value in tact without showing his weaknesses, I scoffed, but, looking back, that’s not a bad way to do business.
I don’t know what the future holds for Soler. You don’t either. I see a talented player who has been brutally bad this season, but he hits the ball hard, has insane power and understands the strike zone better than almost any Royal. The first few months of his time in Kansas City hasn’t exactly gone well, but there’s still time for him to contribute positively to this Royals club in one way or another, and if I were a betting man (oh wait, I am), I’d bet on that happening.