Expectations were high for Jorge Soler going into the 2020 season, and for good reason. In 2019 the Royals DH broke the Royals single-season home-run record previously held by Mike Moustakas. I say broke, but I mean shattered. Moose slapped an impressive 38 home runs in 2016, but three years later Soler not only one-upped that, he ten-upped it, setting not only a Royals single-season record but hitting the most home runs of anyone in the AL with 48.
Soler combined his record-setting home runs with an impressive .354 on-base percentage and 10.8% walk rate to post a 136 wRC+ (20th best in baseball). This was a massive shift from previous years, where injury and a tendency to strike out far too much had Royals fans worried the Wade Davis trade would be a complete bust, until 2019. No one was sure what to make of Soler’s 2019 season. He was abysmal for the first few months, then was one of if not the best hitter in baseball for the last few months.
It was a bit of an anti-climactic season for Soler, although coming off an All-Star-caliber season in 2019 into a pandemic-shortened 2020 it was always likely to be. By the numbers, Soler fell back to earth quite a bit in the shortened 2020 season. His batting average was down (.228 vs .265), his on-base percentage dropped 28 points, his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 34.5%. Because of Soler’s tremendous natural power he still put up an above-average season at the plate (108 wRC+), but coming off his last two seasons this would seem like a massive disappointment. But as with most things, context is necessary.
Soler’s 2020 is really a tale of two seasons. In one half, Soler was a solid middle-of-the-order masher. Through the end of August Soler was hitting .250/.352/.492 with 8 home runs in 147 plate appearances for a 128 wRC+. He was still striking out far too much (34%), but his walk rate was up, and he continued to provide the power threat in the middle of the order, driving in 22 runs.
In the other half, Soler was... basically not a hitter. Soler appeared in 8 games in September and hit .120/.185/.200. He was placed on the Injured List on September 8th, having reportedly dealt with the injury for some time.
The Royals are, hopefully, just a season or two away from real competition, and have a lot of financial flexibility this off season. They have control of Jorge Soler for the 2021 season, and after that Soler will become a free agent. It feels like this off season will be the time for Soler to be either traded or extended.
It’s difficult to judge how his 2020 stats and injury will impact his value in either case, but given the Royals don’t appear to be in a great position to contend in 2021 it seems unlikely they would want to keep Soler if they did not intend on him still being around beyond the 2021 season. Either way, I anticipate the decision to extend or trade to be made this offseason, as mid-season trades for bat-only players have not netted much in return.
If 2020 was the final season for Soler with the Royals, it will without a doubt be a let down. But his home run record seems fairly safe to stand for a long while (even as baseballs are mysteriously being hit for home runs more and more), and he seems to have earned the loyalty of the fan base, so don’t rule the possibility of him hitting home runs at the K for many years to come.
What grade would you give Jorge Soler for his 2020 season?
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