- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If Jorge Soler had been born in the United States, a Red Sox official said Thursday, there’s no way baseball would have been his No. 1 sport.
“With that build, he would have been a linebacker,’’ the official said.
But Soler was born in Cuba, a country in which baseball has no rival, and soon the 19-year-old outfielder will be the centerpiece of an auction in which the Red Sox intend to be serious bidders, the official said.
All of the Sox top talent evaluators, including general manager Ben Cherington, have seen Soler in the Dominican Republic, where they traveled to see several top Cuban defectors, including Yoenis Cespedes. Oakland recently signed 26-year-old outfielder Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal, and the Chicago Cubs signed an 18-year-old left-handed pitcher, Gerardo Concepcion, to a $7 million deal.
While the Sox certainly had interest in Cespedes and to a lesser degree Concepcion, the younger Soler has the greatest appeal to them, the official said. “He has incredible raw power,’’ the official said of the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, though he wasn’t quite as ready as others to credit Soler with plus speed and being a plus defender.
At this point, the official said once Soler signs, it would be best to start him in Class A ball, although without having in camp, that’s just a projection.
The Sox official said that there are indications that Soler will establish his residency in the Dominican Republic in a couple of weeks, a required step before clubs can begin negotiating with him. That timetable, as it did with Cespedes, could change, the official said, but the Sox have maintained communication with Soler’s agent, Barry Praver.
“I played against him in Cuba -- he was younger, but he’s a good player," said Boston’s 22-year-old Cuban shortstop, Jose Iglesias, who would have seen Soler when he was 16 or 17.
There are a number of teams interested in Soler, but he could be the centerpiece of an intense competition between the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs and Theo Epstein, who according to some reports was preparing to make a four-year, $26 million for Soler. The White Sox, Yankees, Marlins, Phillies and Astros are all among the clubs who have been reported to be in on Soler, but the Sox are prepared to make a major push.
In doing so, though, they will be without Craig Shipley, who played a vital role in scouting and signing Iglesias. The Sox let Shipley go after Ben Cherington became GM under circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.
Other news from Friday morning from the Fort, where the fog has been slow to burn off, though we’re still expecting another day of 85 degree temperatures:
* The minicamp for Sox minor leaguers has begun with players taking their physicals Thursday and workouts beginning Friday. One of the team’s most exciting young prospects, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, is taking part. Bogaerts spent the last couple of weeks in the Dominican Republic playing in a camp there and came here with the Dominican players taking part. Bogaerts, a 19-year-old native of Aruba, has shot to the top or near the top of many Sox top prospect lists.
“He’s a physical freak with a lot of power,’’ the Sox official said. “And he has great makeup. He works really hard.’’
Mike Andrews, an ESPNBoston contributor, and his SoxProspects.com pegged Bogaerts as their No. 1 prospect to have a breakout year. Here’s what he had to say:
“We covered Bogaerts' ascent to top-prospect status earlier this month. He's currently listed as a top-three prospect in the system and a top-100 prospect in all of baseball by most major publications. With the proper adjustments and improvements in A-Ball, Bogaerts could vault himself into elite-prospect status in 2012.
“Likely to spend the season in Low-A Greenville and/or High-A Salem, the powerful 19-year-old shortstop from Aruba will need to continue refining his plate approach and make strides on defense. If he's able to do that and replicate his power numbers from 2011 over the course of the full season in 2012, he could be tagged as Boston's next franchise prospect.’’
Read Andrews; profile of Bogaerts here.
Also in the Fort for a couple of days is Daniel McGrath, the 17-year-old signed recently by the Sox out of Australia. The Sox want to give him a taste of things, but he has to return home: He still has to finish school.
* Long-time baseball reporter Peter Gammons chided the media for its "anger" toward the Red Sox in the aftermath of last September's 7-20 collapse. Here is part of what he had to say in his column for MLB.com:
"The two pitchers (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester) did not question what they had rolled over so often during the winter -- unnamed sources -- and danced their mea culpas through the anger and hostility of the New England media, hostility that Beckett could not quell.
"... After the Lester/Beckett mea culpas, one player asked, "Why is the media so angry?
"Hey, it's not just the Boston media. Anger sells, be it talk radio, talk television, tweeters or bloggers. It's not simply Red Sox baseball; it's politics and celebrity news and gossip. Beckett referred to any consumption of beer during rain delays or with games out of reach as 'inexcusable lapses in judgment.'
"Are such incidents a one-clubhouse thing? Hardly. One privately claimed it happened 'a couple of times," but even if it were more, was the private weakness the reason for the professional failure? No.'
For the record, Gammons is a member of the media, and has long worked out of Boston.
1dScott Barboza, Special to ESPN.com