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Soler has game-changing abilities with bat, glove

My first look at Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler came in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. I was surprised to see him playing in the league, as he had just signed that June as an international free agent. Soler defected to the United States through Haiti, and he joined fellow Cuban sluggers Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes as fresh, new power hitters on the baseball landscape.

Soler handled his transition to the Cubs extremely well. He hit .271 with a homer and six doubles among his 23 hits this fall. Playing a very solid right field, Soler played in 20 games and went to the plate 85 times. I came away understanding what scouts saw in his game and why he was a coveted international hitter.

Soler is more often compared to Cespedes than Puig. However, they all have similar strength in their lower bodies and an ability to power the ball out of any park. Cespedes may be more of a pull hitter than Puig and Soler.

When I saw Soler this past Spring Training, he was still returning from a shortened 2013 season in which he missed three months with a stress fracture in his left leg. Running gingerly and being cautious, Soler hit only .222 in nine spring at-bats.

This year, hamstring issues have raised a caution flag. With his thick thighs, hips and legs, Soler's hamstring issues have to be given careful consideration in his approach on both offense and defense. While he's only "sneaky" fast, he certainly has enough speed to steal a few bases when healthy. But the Cubs are exercising caution with his leg issues, trying to pace his game appearances accordingly.

Soler is No. 4 on the Cubs' Top 20 Prospect list. That's saying something, as the Cubs are loaded with extremely talented young players waiting for a chance to play big league baseball.

Soler spent the majority of this year at Double-A Tennessee, where he hit a whopping .415 in 22 Southern League games. He had 79 plate appearances, hitting six homers, nine doubles and a triple while driving in 22 runs. He was promoted to Triple-A Iowa in late July. Soler's hitting continued, as he managed a .282 batting average in 32 games and 127 plate appearances. He belted another eight homers for the Pacific Coast League club.

Soler is a legitimate game-changing five-tool player. He can hit for average, has emerging power to all fields, plays solid defense with a very strong, accurate arm and runs well. Foot speed is his least pronounced tool, but he has excellent instincts on the bases.

Soler generates tremendous backspin on his drives from a very solid mechanical approach at the plate. His swing is measured and quick. Soler takes pitches where they are thrown and uses the entire field as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed hitter. He has outstanding strength, and at age 22, hasn't really shown the type of power he projects. Eventually, there won't be a park in either league that will be able to hold Soler's drives. He's that strong. And he knows how to get the most from his huge lower body. Soler will have to monitor his weight carefully as he continues to grow and develop.

Soler knows the strike zone well, is patient at the plate and makes very good, consistent contact. He rarely strikes out, a unique quality for a power hitter. He is willing to accept a base on balls, but his bat is destined for a place in the middle of the batting order.

Defensively, Soler has a very strong and accurate arm. He makes all the plays in right field and has enough closing speed to comfortably cover enough ground.

Soler was summoned to the parent club at the end of August. He hit safely in nine of his first 10 games and had an extra-base hit or drove in a run in each of his first eight. I saw him play in a September series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. For those few games, Soler looked to be the focal point of the young Cubs lineup. Why? He has presence. Stature.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.
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