The Phillies Are In the Running for Jorge Soler

In the past few days, the Phillies’ position with regards to Cuban prospect Jorge Soler has gone from silence to “interested” to, as Jeff Passan put it, “in hardest,” along with the New York Yankees. Soler’s case is somewhat unique, as he will be one of the last international signings to occur before the new collective bargaining agreement’s restrictions on international spending go into effect this summer. The (frankly, rather absurd) new rules will impose harsh, progressive taxes on international contracts that exceed a set limit, so a lot of teams faced with one last opportunity to make their money truly work for them in the global baseball market may seek his services.

The Cubs were apparently close enough to signing him on Monday night that some outlets reported the deal as done, but with last year’s highest and second-highest payrolls now in the bidding, many teams may be priced out. The supposed Cubs deal that has since been refuted was for around $30 million dollars; he may end up making substantially more than that, even more than the 4 year, $36 million deal handed out to fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, but without the latter’s ability to become a free agent when the deal expires.

Soler cuts an even lower profile than Cespedes, who came with many questions and only a 20 minute long self-aggrandizing YouTube video to answer them. In Jorge’s case, we have no video, and, by way of illustration, the above picture that looks like a found photo from the 1960s is the only one I could find [ed. note: appropriately, this wasn’t even a picture of Soler, so I removed it]. Still, he’s been generating some amount of discussion in scouting circles for the last two years, and now that MLB teams are meeting with him, a reasonable snapshot can be assembled. The basics: he is a 6′ 5″ right-handed hitter that weighs in at around 200 pounds. Most of the available reports on his abilities are in decent alignment, and Soler’s raw power is the first thing that gets mentioned. One report noted that he could be a 30 home run hitter at the big league level, while Ken Rosenthal reported that some scouts compared his power to that of Marlins slugger Mike Stanton. While he was in the minors, Stanton’s power had a sort of folk legend status, and the young right-fielder has slugged .525 in his first 1,000 or so major league plate appearances, so it’s hard to overstate what high praise that is.

Of course, power isn’t very useful if a hitter’s contact and patience skills aren’t playable. It seems generally agreed-upon that Soler is still raw in those areas, and will need a lot of seasoning in the minor leagues to bring them up to speed. Since he’s only 19 years old, this makes him not much different from most high-ceiling hitting prospects that come from both the United States and elsewhere abroad, and similar to the sort of hitters that the Phillies have drafted over the years — Larry Greene being the most recent to come to mind. More than one source makes reference to Soler’s five-tool potential, though certain of these receive more press than others. Besides his power, his arm is apparently a standout asset, which, combined with evaluations of his fielding, causes many to suspect that he’ll move from center field to right field when he finds a landing spot in the United States. He possesses formidable speed, having been clocked by one scout at 4.26 seconds from home plate to first base, which is above average for a right-hander. Scouts seem to doubt that this will be enough to make him a significant base-stealing threat in the MLB, however.

Slotting Soler along with more well-understood prospects requires some guesswork. Kevin Goldstein was asked (many times) where Soler would rank among his top 100 prospects list, released this week, were he to include foreign talent. He placed Soler at 39, ahead of Padres catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and 13 spots ahead of the highest Phillie on his list, Trevor May. I asked Keith Law the same question in a recent chat, but he did not answer it. He did say that, were the Cubs to sign him, he would place Soler “ahead of [Brett] Jackson” at 89 but not ahead of Anthony Rizzo at 36, which leaves plenty to the imagination. Notably, though, Law also said that he would rather “roll the dice on Soler” than Cespedes, given the former’s age and what he’s heard from his sources. Regardless, there is plenty of the uncertainty that comes with any international prospect. Law has said several times that the level of competition in Cuban baseball is lower than that of single-A, but with a wider divide between the best and worst players, and Soler is certainly at or near the top of competition in that environment. As a 19 year old, rookie or single-A baseball is the most suitable home for him anyway at this point, but Soler will have to cope with not only a whole new field of competitive talent, but also the psychological burdens of a teenager moving to an entirely new country and making the necessary adaptations.

For the Phillies, Soler is a risk worth taking, both because of their financial situation and because Soler represents an immediate step towards relieving one of their more pressing problems — the farm system. With Domonic Brown having graduated from prospect status (albeit, in this metaphor, still living with his negligent parents) and the toll taken by last season’s trade for Hunter Pence, Keith Law understandably ranked Philadelphia’s organization in the bottom five in the MLB. As mentioned, Kevin Goldstein, for one, would rank Soler ahead of the Phillies’ highest-rated prospect, Trevor May. He also, incidentally, places Soler ten spots ahead of Jarred Cosart, the highest-rated of the Pence bounty. The Phillies will be patient with talents like May, Larry Greene, Jesse Biddle, and Sebastian Valle, but with some rule 4 draft changes looming that will restrict their ability to throw money around with U.S. amateurs, Soler represents a quick, easy boost to the farm system that could pay serious dividends in four or five years. Like the rest of the talent in the Phillies’ system, Soler is raw, but if the Mike Stanton comparisons are even remotely plausible, Citizens Bank Park would be a very cozy home for him.

This Phillies offseason has been understandably fairly quiet, outside of the early acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon. There was no real need for big ticket signings, given the roster’s composition. But, in addition to being a sound baseball move, signing Jorge Soler would carry a certain excitement with it, owing particularly to the Phillies’ historical reluctance to dabble in big money international signings. Several years down the road, when the roster will be thick with age and expense, the potential for a comparatively cheap young talent with team control is well worth a significant up-front investment, and the assumption of the risk that goes with it. Jim Salisbury reports that the Phillies are a “serious player” for Soler, having “remained in close contact with Soler and his agents since [he] defected.” Once the formalities associated with him attaining official free agent status are overcome, it may be only a short period of time before we know where he will land.

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24 comments

  1. nik

    February 16, 2012 07:43 PM

    Could even be ready to replace Pence in 2014. A Brown, Gillies, Soler OF of the future sounds very exciting.

  2. Richard

    February 16, 2012 08:01 PM

    How would his contract affect the Phillies (or any team’s) payroll? That is, if a team signs an amateur free agent, or even draft pick, to a big deal (a la Strasburg or Harper), does that money affect the team’s payroll? like for luxury tax purposes?

  3. Ryan Sommers

    February 16, 2012 08:22 PM

    I just murdered everyone within a mile radius in a rage induced by reading the previous CBA, but my understanding is that only salaries of players on the 40 man roster are included in the luxury tax calculation. I’m not 100% certain about that though.

    Go into your bathroom, turn off the lights, and chant “Eric Seidman” three times until he appears, and you can ask him, because he knows all there is to know about that stuff.

  4. Richard

    February 16, 2012 08:41 PM

    Right, good point. Eric is the guru; though your 40 man roster suggestion sounds plausible.

  5. Jameson

    February 16, 2012 10:54 PM

    From what i can gather, if Soler was signed his contract will fall under the old rules. This means if he signs an amatuer contract, the money is a bonus and his salary and trip to arbitration would mirror any draft pick, if he signs a major league contract it would be more like Harper or Strasburg, where the money counts towards the luxury tax, and i believe the player has to be on the 40 man and the arbitration clock starts immediately. i am not an expert on this subject so do not take my word as gospel.

  6. B in DC

    February 16, 2012 11:21 PM

    Pretty sure arb clocks don’t start when one hits the 40 man roster. Options start if that guy doesn’t break camp on the 25 man roster, but arb clocks are based on big league service time.

    So hard to evaluate foreign talent without putting eyes on it in real competition. This guy’s a big roll of the dice. Cespedes at least had a record in Cuba to compare with prior Cubans. This guy’s all scouting. Still cool though if they go for it.

  7. MisterZoomer

    February 16, 2012 11:44 PM

    I heard he is made of pulled pork and cigar wrappers and hit a home run of Fidel Castro Award winning pitcher Fidel Castro Jr. Jr.

  8. Mratfink

    February 17, 2012 12:18 AM

    KLaw also was saying in his chat today that he saw Soler requiring 2 years in the minors at the least. Meaning he would probably start at Clearwater (high A) with a promotion to AA looming if his approach and defense looked good. his height is similar to that of say Werth so imagine if he starts packing on muscle in a major league weight program. He could seriously fill out and have major power potential

  9. Ryan Sommers

    February 17, 2012 12:30 PM

    Ah, excellent. Good read. So basically yes, the only 40-man players with MLB deals are included in the luxury tax, but Eric is doubtful that the Phils will be able to get him on a minor league deal with the Yankees in the running before July 2nd.

  10. Philli697

    February 17, 2012 02:00 PM

    I wouldn’t be so sure that it’s doubtful tho, since it’s not like Yankees have been outbidding everyone and their mothers for international players. Case in point, I was surprised they didn’t go after Darvish, or at least didn’t bid higher than the Rangers, given their obvious need for pitching (at the time anyway). Yankees have deep pockets, but they’ve also shown (kudos to Cashman, who is > than RAJ) reasonable restraint from outlandish spending (A-Rod’s contract notwithstanding). I wouldn’t count the Phillies out in a bidding war just yet.

  11. topherstarr

    February 17, 2012 03:28 PM

    @Philli679

    Regarding the Yankees’ “obvious” need for pitching: I was surprised to see that their staff was 2nd in rWAR and 3rd in fWAR last season. They didn’t have much star-power after Sabbathia, but as a whole they pitched better than most people realize.

  12. Ryan Sommers

    February 17, 2012 04:44 PM

    Yeah, but that’s due in part to some contributions from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia that they should not count on getting again. Pineda was a great acquisition though.

  13. topherstarr

    February 17, 2012 04:58 PM

    Totally agree about Colon and Garcia. The Pineda trade made much more sense than bidding on Darvish in my opinion.

    Also, teams like to say they are building bullpen depth to make up for their crappy rotation. I have a hard time wrapping my head around reliever WAR, but it seems like the Yankees actually did it.

  14. Rob SJ

    February 17, 2012 05:00 PM

    Acquiring young talent is great, but the pricetags I’m hearing are concerning. $30-40MM for 4 years? I know these are all unconfirmed rumors, but if you project that he plays 2 of those 4 years in the minors, you’re now paying the guy the equivalent of $15-20MM/year for 2 years of MLB time? Hopefully? If he even pans out? That’s a scary thought. Say he only plays 2 years in MLB by the end of that 4 year contract – he wouldn’t even be Arb eliegible, would he? Would he just be under club control? And then 3 years of Arb? Just seems like a lot to invest in a complete unknown quantity.

  15. Robert

    February 18, 2012 10:29 AM

    First off Brown has gotten his butt kicked in the major leagues. And Amauro has said that in the best case scenario, Brown stays in the minors all year. I am not counting on him, because he also showed me a little Bobby Abreu in the OF. He looked lazy and like someone who thought the game would just come to him. Gillies hasn’t played enough and Solar, well we will see. While it all looks great,the Phillies real strength is in Pitching having 3 in the top 100 prospects.Usually a young Cuban is NOT the Phillies style,however,I see them really wanting this guy while NOT being sure now about Brown. Dominic may even get traded at some point,imagine what the Phils could get for him NOW!

  16. hk

    February 18, 2012 11:36 AM

    Robert,

    Define getting his butt kicked in the major leagues and then compare it to what the Phils got out of the LF position last year. Among the starters, his OBP was comparable to Jimmy’s and Polly’s and better than Raul’s. His slugging was off, in part because he was recovering from a broken hamate bone. His production was also improving as he recovered more and more from the injury as he posted a .398 OBP in July, the month before he got demoted. Did he struggle in the OF? Sure. However, I have every confidence in the world that he could start 2012 in LF and be a defensive upgrade over what Ibanez provided last year.

    You are right, imagine what the Phils can get for Dom now…now that they have jerked him around and they demoted him after a .398 OBP month.

  17. EricL

    February 18, 2012 01:25 PM

    Bob, pretty much everything you said in your comment is wrong.

    1. Brown didn’t get “his butt kicked” last year, as hk showed.

    2. Ruben has said that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Brown can play his way onto the Phils roster in spring training. That’s the best case scenario.

    3. You say Brown looked like Bobby Abreu, yet you do so in an attempt to disparage Brown, as if being labeled “like Abreu” is some sort of a scarlet letter. Bobby Abreu is one of the most criminally underrated athletes Philadelphia has seen in the last two decades. From 1995-2003 Bobby Abreu put up an average of 5.6 bWAR/yr. To put that into perspective, both Hutner Pence and Shane Victorino had career years last season and put up 5.2 and 5.1 bWAR, respectively. The only two players on the last year’s 102-win Phillies that had more WAR than Abreu averaged over that period were Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. That’s it.

    Bobby Abreu was an outstanding player and we should consider ourselves lucky as fans if Brown were to become that productive.

    4. You opine on Brown’s mental status, as being someone who “thought the game would just come to him.” That’s something you’re entirely unqualified to judge, unless you happen to be his psychologist or a member of his family or close friends.

    5. Finally, you spelled the name of the guy who the original bolg post is about wrong, even though it’s spelled correctly for you 23 times in the article, not counting the header.

  18. Jhole

    February 18, 2012 05:18 PM

    Eric I’m with you 100% on Brown. To say he’s been mismanaged at this point would be an understatement. Let’s see what happens this spring with him, and let’s be honest, Mayberry Jr. is NOT the worst option in the world to fill in for Howard until he’s back and then play LF on an every day basis. It’s not out of the question to think Mayberry could hit .280 with 25/90 with 550 AB’s this year.

    Onto Soler, this is a move that could and should offer immediate help for the Phillies depleted farm system. A farm system that has been gutted for the trades for Halladay, Lee, Pence, Oswalt, and several other significant contributors to the 5 time defending NL East champions. Quickly, think about those “prospects” that were given up and ask yourself if you were RAJ, would you do those deals again? Halladay for essentially Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor? Um, Drabek would have to take a giant leap forward to approach even a declining Doc. Cliff Lee for essentially Jason Donald and soome spare parts. Give RAJ credit for that one. Oswalt to the Astros for Happ and spare parts. Pence for Jarad Cosart and Jonathan Singleton. Highly rated prospects for sure, but again, I’ll take the late 20’s under control certainty of Pence at this point.

    Soler would be a top end “prospect”, but probably 2-3 years from major league ready, at a time when Utley, Howard, Rollins, Ruiz, Polanco and the bunch will be ending their time in Philly. A time when the Phillies will count on someone like Soler to help rebuild for the next mini “dynasty”. Hopefully Brown, Mayberry, Hamels and Galvis are a part of that….

  19. hk

    February 18, 2012 08:07 PM

    Jhole,

    Travis d’Arnaud, #6 on Keith Law’s recent Top Prospects list, went to Toronto in the Halladay deal and Anthony Gose, #59 on Law’s list, went to the Astros for Oswalt. The Astros turned around and traded Gose to the Blue Jays, so the Astros return on the deal was not as great, but it does not mean that the Phils only gave up “spare parts” in the deal.

  20. Jhole

    February 19, 2012 01:38 PM

    hk –

    I did forget about d’Arnaud, but did not refer to the Halladay deal as spare parts. I did so with the Astros deal for Oswalt. And I’d consider #59 on Law’s list spare parts, but we can agree to disagree on that one.

  21. hk

    February 19, 2012 03:49 PM

    Jhole,

    In a sense, all prospects are “spare parts” until they prove otherwise in the bigs or are used as part of a trade. I consider Law’s list as my “go-to” and he had Singleton at 46, Gose at 59 and Cosart at 78, so when you called Singleton and Cosart “highly rated”, I figured you might lump Gose in with them.

  22. Phillie697

    February 21, 2012 12:23 PM

    God I HOPE Dom turns into Abreu. Holy crap I would be jumping up and down on the couch like Tom Cruise. He gets on base like Abreu, we’ll probably score a good 30-40 more runs. Maybe Robert was trolling?

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