Jorge Soler homered yesterday, his first of the spring, and perhaps a sign he is getting on track. He has otherwise struggled mightily in Arizona, hitting .140 in 43 at-bats with 15 strikeouts. Soler’s struggles have caused enough concern among Royals fans that some feel he should begin the year in Omaha, with Paulo Orlando getting the start in right, or perhaps even Cactus League sensation Peter O’Brien.
Ordinarily this would be quite concerning. There is just one thing.
Thanks, college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein, for your repeated observation.
These are fake games where the points don’t matter and players are looking to get through the game without getting hurt so they can hit the back nine. Games involve a parade of pitchers, many of which will be pitching in Pacific Coast League ballparks in two weeks. There are many reasons to dismiss spring training statistics. Jorge Soler is hitting .140 in 43 fake at-bats this year. Peter O’Brien hit .141 in 64 real at-bats last summer with the Diamondbacks. Sure, O’Brien is forcing the issue this spring, but his regular season results should probably be more of a factor in our evaluation than what happens this spring.
Soler has had just 43 at-bats, about two weeks’s worth of games. A lot of players can go through a slump in two weeks. Mike Moustakas, who had a career year in 2015, had a stretch from July 21 to August 10 where he hit .129 over 69 plate appearances. Cheslor Cuthbert had a decent season last year, and hit .128 over 50 plate appearances from September 4-19.
If there is a spring training stat that should be of concern, it is Soler’s strikeout rate. Strikeouts can be evidence of issues in spring training. Soler has struck out in 30% of his plate appearances this spring, which is a concern. Peter O’Brien, for what its worth, has struck out 33% of the time.
Could there be a concern that Soler has a cold bat that could carry over into April? Sure. Soler did struggle just last spring training with the Cubs, hitting .145 with three home runs in 55 at-bats. Those struggles carried over into the regular season, where he didn’t get his head above the Mendoza Line until late May. It wasn’t until after a stint on the disabled list for a hamstring issue that he really began to hit, batting .258/.348/.515 over his last 36 games.
But a poor spring training is certainly not a predictor of regular season failure. Paulo Orlando hit .179 last spring, then went on to hit .300 last season, his best year as a pro. Drew Butera hit just .132 last year, and had a career high in virtually every offensive category. Young players like Jonathan Villar and Marcus Semien had terrible spring performances last year, then went on to have career years.
Of course, I’m cherry-picking examples where a player failed in the spring and went on to have a fine season. There are countless examples where spring struggles foretold a down season. The point is, we just don’t know yet. Soler’s problems could be a slump that could carry into the regular season - or worse - be symptomatic of a career that will not reach its full potential. Or he could figure it out by April and go on a tear to start the year - the Minnesota Twins pitching staff is always a great antidote for any slump.
The point is that we shouldn’t put too much stock into spring performances. Jorge Soler has a career OPS of .762, higher than any regular on the Royals put up last year other than Kendrys Morales. He has some flaws to his game, but he has solid upside and has put up decent numbers.
In two weeks, the Royals will travel from the warm, dry air of Arizona, to the chilly conditions of Minnesota. They will soon go from facing Reds AAA pitchers to facing Dallas Keuchel, Sonny Gray, and Corey Kluber. As of right now, everyone is hitting the same - .000. Soler will likely be the Opening Day rightfielder, and he should be. But he does have an option year remaining, and if he struggles in April, there could be reason to send him down for more seasoning.
Let’s not panic about him. Yet.