Kansas City Royals

Jorge Soler having breakout season that seemed unlikely to ever come

Jorge Soler seemed destined to never break through, but he is giving the Kansas City Royals something to latch onto this season as he approaches a club record.

Sunday’s 10-2 win over the Detroit Tigers gave the Kansas City Royals a 43-76 record on the season, so they are playing out the string. But a source of hope has come in Jorge Soler, who hit two home runs in the game to give him four for the three-game series with at least one in each game.

Those home runs were Soler’s 34th and 35th on the season, with a .259/.343/.558 slash-line, 87 RBI and 69 runs scored over 497 plate appearances. He’s second in the American League in home runs, behind only Mike Trout (39), and tied for third in the AL in RBI now.

For three years running, 2013-2015, Soler was ranked as a top-50 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, with a peak of No. 12, No. 22 and No. 19 by the respective sources in 2015.

But in December of 2016, the Chicago Cubs sent Soler to the Royals for relief pitcher Wade Davis. They got an All-Star season out of Davis in 2017, as he posted a 2.30 ERA with 32 saves and a 12.1 K/9, before he signed with the Colorado Rockies in free agency the following offseason.

Soler hit 11 home runs over 96 games for the Royals during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Heading into his age-27 season, any sort of breakthrough seemed unlikely to ever come.

As with a lot of hitters in today’s game, Soler is hitting a lot of fly balls this season (39.3 percent entering Sunday). His hard contact rate is up only slightly over 2018 (45.2 percent vs. 42.9 percent), and he’s using the whole field more.

Soler, however, seems to be benefiting from a bit of good fortune. His home run/fly ball rate this year was 27.5 percent entering Sunday, substantially exceeding his career rate of 19.2 percent. But he’s also been in the Royals lineup literally every day thus far, playing all 119 games in right field or as the DH, so his pure volume of everything has been higher.

Kansas City’s single-season club record for home runs is 38, set by Mike Moustakas in 2017. Steve Balboni holds the record for a right-handed hitter, with 36 in 1985. So barring a fluke significant injury in the near future, Soler will pass both numbers and he should easily give the Royals their first ever 40-home run hitter.

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Age 27, with plenty of data to back it up, is generally considered to be the start of a hitter’s prime years. So while it felt like Soler would never reach his potential, perhaps his breakout campaign has simply been right on time.

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