Lost in the shuffle beneath the bigger rumors which came out of this past week’s GM Meetings in Milwaukee was word that the Nationals could be looking towards Cuba to help fill their current outfield void. According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the team has expressed some interest towards Cuban defector Jorge Soler, a 19 year old outfielder who has received high praise from numerous scouts.
Teams cannot formally start bidding on Soler as he has not officially been granted free agency yet. That process is expected to take a few more weeks, like the situation facing fellow Cuban defector Yoenes Cespedes. Cespedes has also been linked to Washington, though his profile is much larger and has attracted the attention of many more teams to date. He’s far more MLB ready than Soler, which also adds significant value. As such, the ultimate cost to land Cespedes is going to be much higher. But, he’s a different player and the subject of another post for another time.
Last November Soler’s name first was introduced thanks to Baseball America’s John Manuel. While he had not yet defected at the time, Manuel speculates on his five tool potential and game changing speed (Soler was reportedly clocked at just 4.26 seconds to get down to first base). The outfielder is likely best suited to play one of the corner outfield positions, though he may be capable of handling center field. He’s 6’3″, 205 pounds, and athletic by all accounts. Kilgore shared this quote on Soler from the Nationals’ Director of International Scouting Johnny DiPuglia:
He’s got a Hanley Ramirez type body. Plus arm. Plus bat speed. He’s a good kid, a good energy kid.
DiPuglia is apparently a good source, as he’s known Soler for nearly four years due to his time working on an international basis. He’s seen Soler in a number of international youth tournaments, including one in 2007 in which Soler’s Cuban team faced a US team led by a then 15 year old Bryce Harper. According to the story shared by Kilgore, the game went into extra innings at which point Harper was pitching with Soler at the plate. Harper’s coach forced him to walk Soler, despite objections from both pitcher and batter.
Once Soler is granted free agency we’ll be able to better determine how long the process will ultimately take before he signs. Due to his age there is a strong likelihood that Soler will need a sizeable number of at bats in the minor leagues before he is MLB ready (perhaps 800 to 1,000 – the rough equivalent to a season and a half). But, at 19 and with the potential he possesses, a team is going to be patient with him. The Yankees, Cubs, and Rangers have also been linked to Soler in addition to the Nationals. Speculation exists that he’s likely looking at a deal similar to, but richer than the three year, $15.5 Million contract that Texas gave to Leonys Martin.