Jorge Soler had a breakout year for the Kansas City Royals and hit home runs like no Royal before him, but does he have more to offer the team?
Kansas City Royals fans know who Jorge Soler is at this point. There has likely been more coverage of him during the past season and current offseason than any other member of the Royals roster.
This is for good reason, though. Soler blasted his way into the front of the line during the 2019 season. Soler hit home runs like no Royals before him. He broke Mike Moustakas‘s previous single-season home run record of 38, and just for good measure, beat it by 10.
Soler is a terror at the plate for every pitcher and as the season progressed he got better and better. If he wasn’t hitting it out of the park, he was usually making it to base one way or another. Soler managed to cut down incredibly on his strikeouts and improve his plate discipline to show that he is the player fans have been hoping for.
The question remains, though, what else can Soler do? Soler may have seen most of his time with the Royals as the designated hitter in 2019, but as with most DHs, he can be a position player if needed. Soler is listed as a right fielder, but with the Royals, he’s a bit out of place.
The Royals outfield still has some unknowns for 2020 at this point, but at this point, defensively, it seems to be covered. While Alex Gordon is still an unknown, with the defensive abilities of Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips to help cover, plus the possibilities of Hunter Dozier, Ryan McBroom, and Whit Merrifield if needed, Soler is the odd man out on defense.
While Soler’s offensive abilities can rival just about anyone on that list, his defense typically falls short. All of the players listed above saw some time in the outfield in 2019 and all hovered around a .990 fielding percentage (across all outfield positions) or higher. To break it down a little more in line with Soler, Merrifield started 53 games in right field (played 61) and held a .991 fielding percentage.
Soler started 54 games (played 56) in right field in 2019 and held a .971 fielding percentage. Of course, it’s hard to compare Soler to any other than Whit as he is the only one who played as many games in right, but the fact is, all of those players shined defensively in the outfield. Soler can play defense, and he has shown that with some great plays, but he just can’t keep up with other Royals outfielders.
So, what is Soler’s role? Soler like most designated hitters will continue to see some time at his listed position, the outfield. Soler made some good plays in right field in 2019, but not enough to secure him the full-time gig. The Royals want to keep his bat in the lineup every day, though, so if he has to play the field, he will.
Really, what Soler provides the Royals is a unique opportunity. Yes, that sounds like something an optimist would say to try and negate the fact the team lost 100 games in 2019. Even so, the Royals have a player on the roster that is unlike what they are used to working with.
There are teams who have a designated hitter who sees nothing but games in which the team needs a designated hitter. The Royals don’t typically use this tactic. Not only do they need to have all the position players they can get, but they don’t typically have anyone that fits the “designated hitter” description all that well.
Some other teams have high priced talent running around that can hit and defend. The Royals usually just get some defenders who they hope will figure out their swing. With the 26 man roster coming in 2020, though, the Royals have an opportunity to shake things up a bit.
It might not hurt them to carry an “almost” purely designated hitter on their roster. The Royals offense actually looked fairly good in 2019, and if they can continue to progress, the rebuild will hopefully be over soon. Keep a player like Soler handy, who hit 48 home run and batted in 117 runners in 2019, and you have a good lineup.
The main point here is that while Soler cannot provide the typical level of defensive production the Royals want to see, he can provide them with a change of pace. He allows the team to mix things up, and use a different tactic than they are used to. No more hope for a single and use our speed. While that will still likely be the overall game plan, Soler can add a wildcard to the lineup and shake up the pitchers.
Soler may not be flying through the air to catch a ball in right field, but he can definitely send the balls out there himself. Soler is different than what the Royals are used to and they should embrace it. After back to back seasons of 100 losses, it’s time to try something different, and Soler is a good starting point.