This past offseason, while the Detroit Tigers (see Prince Fielder) and Anaheim Angels (see Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson) of the baseball world saught to improve their respective rosters through the traditional free-agent route, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane took a much more unconventional free agency route when he signed 26-year-old Cuban-born outfield prospect Yoenis Cespedes to a lucrative four-year, $36 Million contract.
Upon signing with Oakland, Cespedes, who defected from his home country to the Dominican Republic last summer to become eligible for free agency, instantly became one of the most alluring and enticing prospects in all of Major League Baseball. Having put up ridiculous numbers — including a .333/.424/.667 slash line with 33 home runs in 90 games during his 2010-2011 season — as a young phenom in Cuba and a viral workout video that would make even Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton jealous, scouts didn’t hesitate to tag him as the best Cuban defector prospect since right-hander Aroldis Chapman made his way to Cincinnati back in 2010. To that end, Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein took that a step further when he dubbed him “arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation” last November.
However, there is an argument to be made that Cespedes — despite the fact he is more or less no longer considered a prospect — is already only the second-best Cuban prospect currently featured in the minors, and the man who’s seemingly surpassed him is none other than 20-year-old Jorge Soler.
Rumors, speculation and tremendous hype surrounding the adolescent prodigy ran rampant this past offseason and well into the current season, however were put to bed on June 30 when it was announced that the Chicago Cubs had reached an agreement with Soler on a not-so-minor-league-typical nine-year, $30 Million contract. First-year Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are in the midst of youth-movement on the south-side, and all signs point to Soler becoming a staple in their lineup for years to come.
I had the chance to see Soler play a few days back with the Cubs’ low-A minor league affiliate Peoria Chiefs and got at unbelievable look at what he has to offer. Here is my own scouting report and evaluation of the 20-year-old Cuban.
BLUF: Has literally every tool in the toolbox without a noticeable weakness to his game. Projects to be a highly productive middle-of-the-order bat with versatility on the bases and as a corner outfield glove.
Body (6-3, 225): Tall and lanky but still very much a physical specimen by any standard. Long limbs really separate him physically from other players his age. Looks as though he could still put on some more muscle, possibly in his lower body, but overall a very developed player from a physicality standpoint.
Hit: Phenomenally skilled hitter in all areas. Sound mechanics at the plate; good placement of the hands pre-pitch with very little movement, allowing him to have straight and fairly accentuated path to the ball. Incredibly strong and quick wrists that allow him to generate exceptionally hard contact on just about all offerings. Good approach at the plate with good pitch recognition, plate discipline and overall coverage. Goes into each at-bat with a plan and hits every pitch where it’s located. Hit-tool grades out as plus-average right now and has a chance to be plus-plus with more experience. Grade — 55/60
Power: Scouts are most intrigued with this aspect of his game, and understandably so. Long arms coupled with plus bat speed and strong wrists allow him to put massive amounts of torque behind his swing. Absolutely crushes fastballs over the heart of the plate with a swing that doesn’t have a whole lot of loft to it; struggles at times to put the same amount of contact on breaking pitches and will need to shore up that area of his game. Definitely has the potential to hit 25 or more home runs per season, possibly could reach the 30/35 home run plateau in a best-case scenario. Grade — 60/70
Arm: Very strong arm with consistent accuracy on long throws to third base. Had a chance to see him in pre-game warmups and was wowed by his arm strength and carry to the ball on longer throws. Grades out as solid-average right now without much room to grow. Grade — 60/60.
Fielding: Solid overall defender. Speed allows him to cover a decent amount of real estate in right field. Reads the ball well at the point of contact and moreover takes good routes to the ball. Aggressive in nature but rarely if ever makes mistakes. Grade — 50/55
Speed: Natural athleticism is off the charts, but his speed isn’t necessarily. Gets out of the box quickly and looks to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Doesn’t get elite jumps when trying to steal bases but still adequate in that area. Long strides will hold him back from becoming a formidable base-stealer. Could steal anywhere from 10-15 bases annually in the big leagues. Grade — 50/50
Summation: Exceptional overall talent with almost every tool in the toolbox. Good plate discipline and plate coverage allow him to drive the ball to all fields. Elite bat speed gives him plus raw power with even more room to grow. Aggressive but goes into every at-bat with a plan. Solid-average defensive tools; strong arm with good instincts make him a projectable right-fielder down the road. Won’t be much of a base stealer but enough so that opponents will have to respect that facet of his game.
Relative Risk: High-risk/high-reward youngster who the Cubs had better hope is worth the $30 Million allotted to him. In other words, yes; there’s some risk involved here.
Future: The Cubs should be in no rush to push Soler through the system. Though extraordinarily talented with many tools, he is still very raw and will need time to figure his swing out in the minors. He rushed through rookie ball and is on a tear in low-A ball at the moment, which likely suggests a promotion to high-A at the beginning of next season. I think there’s a good chance we could see him as a September call-up in 2014.