A home run in late August put Jorge Soler in position to break an important KC Royals’ record. He wouldn’t snap that record until September, but tying it in August was a top moment of the month.
The path Jorge Soler took to the Kansas City Royals, one he probably hadn’t planned but which ultimately led to Kauffman Stadium, had its beginnings in Cuba, found its way through Chicago and ended when a trade landed him with the Royals.
Before baseball fans in the United States knew who he was, Soler made a name for himself in his native Cuba, where he played in international competition and drew the attention of major league scouts. Soler’s 2011 defection from Cuba triggered a bidding war in America; the Cubs secured his services in 2012 with a reported $30 million contract.
Soler justified his 2014 call-up to Wrigley Field with a .306 average over 544 post-signing minor league games, including a .340, 15-homer 2014 AAA performance before the Cubs summoned him to Chicago. In 24 big league games that season, Soler drove in 20 runs, hit five homers and slashed .292/.330/.573. Over his next two Cub campaigns, he hit an injury-plagued .253 with 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s.
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 but, with Aroldis Chapman likely gone to free agency after that season, they needed a closer and focused on the Royals’ Wade Davis, who was set to become a free agent after the ’17 season. Coupled with Kansas City’s pressing needs to get value for Davis and find another bat, and Chicago’s need to fill the bullpen hole Chapman’s sure departure would leave, the clubs agreed to exchange Davis for Soler.
Royals’ fans widely questioned the move, criticism that Soler’s first two KC seasons seemed to justify. Although injuries limited his playing time, his performance when healthy didn’t mirror the Royals’ expectations–in 35 2017 games, he hit only .144 with two homers and six RBI’s; in 2018, he hit nine homers, drove in 28 runs and batted .265.
But Soler exploded in 2019. By the end of June, his 22 home runs put in jeopardy the club’s season record of 38, set only the year before by Mike Moustakas. Six July homers brought Soler’s total to 28, a manageable 10 short of Moustakas with two months to play.
Any doubt that he would at least tie (and likely break) Moustakas’ record was put to rest before August was half over. Soler went on a home run binge, slamming seven in the month’s first 10 games; this assault on the record included four homers in a four-game series at Detroit, capped by two in the series finale. Those four blasts brought his season total to 35, just three shy of the mark.
A homer on August 25th at Cleveland, and another at home August 29th against Oakland, left Soler with one to go for the tie.
Baltimore’s 14-2 drubbing of the Royals the next night gave fans little to cheer about…except for one thing. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Soler put the suspense to rest, slamming John Means‘ second pitch out to deep left to tie Moustakas’ record.
Breaking the record was all that was left and Soler took care of that four nights later at Kauffman Stadium. His 39th homer came against Detroit’s Daniel Norris with two outs in the third and scored Whit Merrifield and Nick Dini; it accounted for half the club’s runs in its 6-5 victory over the Tigers. (Ryan O’Hearn walked off the Tigers with his own home run in the bottom of the ninth).
Soler finished the season with 48 homers and his final blast, hit in the first inning of the club’s’ final game, established a new major league record for Cuban-born players. He became the first Royal to ever lead the American League in home runs. And he finished the year with 33 doubles, 117 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 138 and a .265/.354/.569 slash.
His club home run record was a highlight among the season’s many lowlights; his record-tying blast in late August was the top Royal moment of the month.
Like most of the months before it, August wasn’t good to the 2019 KC Royals. But some exciting wins and the tying of an important team record provided several top moments.