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Jorge Soler - 2019 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper


You’ve probably heard this one before, but for the umpteenth time, Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler is officially on sleeper watch.

The 26-year-old has been flirting with a breakthrough ever since he made the move to the American League in 2016. Amid their World Series run, the Cubs were happy to part ways with one of their brightest young talents in exchange for Wade Davis, and while Chicago won that trade (and a ring), the Royals have been left wondering when their end of the bargain might finally turn up.

It’s been a long waiting game when it comes to Soler, with the promise of power instructing us to sit tight and stay patient. Now preparing to enter his sixth year in the league, can fantasy owners finally see a reward after so much misplaced trust? Here’s everything you need to know about one of Kansas City’s brightest young stars.

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From DL to DH

There are very few positives to draw on when it comes to Soler’s statistical profile. The simple fact is he’s played in only 96 games over the last two seasons, which has left us with nothing but empty numbers to play with when it comes to discussing his ceiling.

Last year a toe fracture cut Soler’s season short in mid-June, an injury he failed to return from after a short stint in AAA. Before then, Soler took 187 at-bats as the Royals’ right-fielder, but General Manager Dayton Moore got busy padding outfield depth this offseason. Don’t be surprised if he spends more time at DH this year.

Soler hit two home runs and drove in six runs as the Royals’ DH in 2018, so this wouldn’t exactly be unfamiliar territory. Only this time around, the inclusion of Billy Hamilton, a player Ned Yost is certain to start, could force Soler out of more regular outfield playing time.

It’s arguable whether this is a positive. On one hand, Soler hit 12 HR in just 264 plate appearances in 2016 with the Cubs, while on the other, a reduced DH role could leave him prone to more swings and misses – something we don’t wish to see after a 32.7% strikeout rate in 2017. Regardless of where Soler winds up on the field though, it's tough to know what to expect until we see receive a large sample size of at-bats.

 

Patience Pays Off

Since time is in Soler’s favor, it is worth considering he reduced that previously mentioned strikeout rate by six percent last season. The pitches Soler faced weren’t easy either - in 2016, opposing pitchers threw fastballs more than half the time, relying on breaking balls in just 30% of his plate appearances.

In 2018, that number increased to 36%, and as Soler’s heatmap shows, pitchers weren’t afraid to throw inside with the slider.

*Graph Credit: Fangraphs

Against breaking balls last year Soler managed just 15 hits, good for a .190/.195/.316 line and zero home runs. So how will Soler adjust if he sees a barrage of sliders in 2019? Fortunately, patience is on his side.

Since entering the league in 2015, Soler has been among the league’s best when it comes to drawing a walk. He earned a free pass close to 11% of the time last season, but did you know his nine-game walk streak ranks 11th among active hitters?

Rk Name Strk Start End Games AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SO BB SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
1 Mike Trout 2017-08-21 2017-09-06 14 48 18 13 3 1 1 2 8 20 7 0 .271 .493 .438 .930 LAA
2 Joey Votto 2018-06-15 2018-06-26 11 38 8 11 5 0 2 12 10 14 0 0 .289 .481 .579 1.060 CIN
3 David Wright 2016-04-27 2016-05-12 11 32 6 7 0 0 2 3 11 15 1 1 .219 .468 .406 .874 NYM
4 Mike Trout 2017-05-13 2017-05-23 10 27 10 10 1 0 6 12 10 15 4 1 .370 .587 1.074 1.661 LAA
5 Curtis Granderson 2015-09-04 2015-09-15 10 32 11 9 2 1 0 5 7 15 0 1 .281 .531 .406 .937 NYM
6 Bryce Harper 2015-04-15 2015-04-25 10 27 8 9 1 0 2 8 10 14 0 2 .333 .548 .593 1.140 WSN
7 Brandon Nimmo 2018-09-13 2018-09-21 9 26 4 5 2 0 1 3 7 10 1 1 .192 .475 .385 .860 NYM
8 Kole Calhoun 2018-08-31 2018-09-10 9 30 6 5 0 0 1 5 13 12 0 0 .167 .395 .267 .662 LAA
9 Jose Ramirez 2018-07-22 2018-07-31 9 24 7 5 1 0 2 6 2 13 5 0 .208 .487 .500 .987 CLE
10 Shin-Soo Choo 2018-05-21 2018-05-29 9 28 6 9 1 0 3 3 9 14 1 0 .321 .548 .679 1.226 TEX
11 Jorge Soler 2018-04-20 2018-04-28 9 26 2 9 4 0 1 4 7 12 0 0 .346 .553 .615 1.168 KC

There’s also a lot more to love about Soler’s game. He’s lost weight, which made a huge difference in his swing last year, while it’s also easy to forget he ranked inside the top seven percent in average exit velocity way back in 2015.

The main concern is obviously consistent at-bats, but an improvement in defense should keep Soler in the outfield. At the very least, he should get time at the DH spot to keep his bat in the lineup. He doesn't warrant a late-round pick if you’re in a standard league, but for anything deeper, Soler could be worth a look as we hold our breath for a long-awaited breakout.

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