- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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MESA, Ariz. -- The presence Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler provides in the Chicago Cubs' spring training locker room is all about the visuals. He’s a man of few words -- in Spanish or English -- but his size stands out among any athletes.
“He’s real big,” was the first observation new manager Joe Maddon made of Soler on Day 1 of camp.
He has a few more now.
“I liked his feet,” Maddon said after watching Soler in defensive drills recently. “His arm is really good.”
Cubs fans got a taste of Soler last season and they must have liked what they saw -- and not just in his 6-4, 215-pound frame. Make that 242 pounds, now. Soler put on muscle this offseason on an already freakishly athletic body. You can see it in his arms.
“I feel real good,” Soler said Monday through staff assistant/translator Franklin Font. “I feel great.”
The Cubs signed Soler to a nine-year contract in 2012 as the pipeline from Cuba is only getting better and better. Soler played in just 24 games last season after being called up from Triple-A Iowa, but made more than a lasting impression by hitting .292 with a .330 on-base percentage to go along with five home runs and 20 RBIs.
Since he’s a man of few words, let’s have some fun with a deeper look into his statistics, providing a picture of what he could be while also realizing it is a tiny sample size and pitchers' adjustments are coming.
These Sabermetric numbers are according to ESPN Stats and Information, and the rankings indicate where he would have ranked among qualified hitters if he had enough at-bats.
His .209 hard-hit average would have ranked 15th in all of baseball. It means he made hard contact in nearly 21 percent of his at-bats. The major league average for qualified hitters was .166.
Soler’s .573 slugging percentage would have ranked second only behind fellow Cuban, Jose Abreu.
His Isolated Power -- calculated by total bases (slugging pct) minus hits (batting avg.) divided by at-bats -- would have ranked first in baseball. It means a good amount of his hits left the park. His home run-to-fly ball rate was 25 percent, which have been good for third among qualified hitters. League average was 11 percent.
Soler hit .405 with a 1.266 OPS off of fastballs, .405/1.394 on pitches in the upper half of the zone and .388/1.260 on pitches in the inner half. All were obviously way above league average.
Again, the sample size is very, very small but he was pretty darn good in his debut as a big leaguer. Those last statistics highlight what is coming from pitchers once they see those numbers -- Soler will undoubtedly get pitched low and away with offspeed stuff. For a big man, that can be a problem area. Soler realizes it.
“The most important thing is about the pitching,” he said. “They make a lot of adjustments against the hitters. So I make adjustments too.”
Due to his past leg problems the Cubs will take it easy on Soler this spring, but come the regular season he says he’s prepared to play 162 games. Maddon thinks more like 130-140 would make sense. Maddon is not concerned about the extra weight Soler has put on, but he wants to see him play more -- especially in larger spring stadiums instead of practice fields -- before making any assessments.
“I’ll have a better idea at that point,” Maddon said. “I’m sure he’ll lose some of that (weight), but I’m not concerned. He’s a big-framed kid. He’s strong, but I’ll have a better opinion when I see him in the game.”
Soler isn’t big on the history of Cuban baseball players nor does he come with a flashy personality like Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, and even though he has the body of a football player, he’s all about baseball.
“I don’t understand the game,” he joked of football.
Soler wants to get more selective at the plate and be more consistent with his swing this season. It’s a good goal, considering he had a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors last season after a nice 1.60:1 ratio in the minors.
He was asked about the possibility of winning Rookie of the Year, for which he still qualifies due to his small number of at-bats and days in the majors last season.
“I don’t think about that,” Soler said. “Just keep working hard.”
But then he added, “I think I have a chance to take off.”
Cubs fans are ready.