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Here's how Soler can get even better in 2020

@FlannyMLB
February 18, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- How exactly does Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler, the reigning American League home run champ, improve upon a season in which he hit 48 home runs? Simple. Just get better.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- How exactly does Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler, the reigning American League home run champ, improve upon a season in which he hit 48 home runs?

Simple.

Just get better.

“Really, it’s just focusing on being a better overall hitter,” Soler said Tuesday through interpreter Luis Perez. “I know I can hit for more average, and less strikeouts.”

Soler hit .265 last season, though last year’s coaching staff believed he could approach .300 at some point. But even that doesn’t seem as critical considering he had a more valuable, and more impressive, .354 on-base percentage with a .922 OPS.

But yes, the strikeouts are an issue. He led the AL with 178 strikeouts in 2019.

That’s one specific area new manager Mike Matheny wants to see Soler work on.

“Obviously you want to have more average and cut down on your strikeouts,” Matheny said. “Regardless of how they say the game should be played today, you have to put pressure on the defense, put the ball in play. You don’t want to sacrifice the power, though. But there’s more in the tank with him. He just found the key to unlock some things last year.”

Matheny watched Soler’s breakthrough season from afar, and naturally was blown away.

“He’s a beast,” Matheny said. “Just watching him as a young player in Chicago, there were just a lot of holes [in his swing]. If you made a mistake, he’d make you pay. But we thought we had some spots we could go to on him.

“But to watch that progression for him to recognize those holes and then put a plan together to combat it -- I saw last year they would try to beat him [high in the zone], but now he can splash those. I watched in awe last year to see what he could do, especially at The K.

“Getting to know him, too, he’s a special guy. This guy is unique.”

Soler said he spent most of his offseason in Miami, working out with catcher Salvador Perez as well as working with renowned hitting coach Mike Tosar, whom the Royals hired as a special assignment hitting instructor last month.

“It has been really important to have [Tosar],” Soler said. “I’ve hit with him since 2018 and it really changed my career.”

One of Soler’s biggest improvements the past two seasons has been plate awareness. Former manager Ned Yost often said that if Soler ever questioned a ball-strike call from an umpire, there was about a 90 percent chance Soler was correct.

“There’s a skill set there [with plate awareness], part of it is trained and part of it is just a gift,” Matheny said. “There’s nothing in the medical world that explains it, maybe depth perception.

“When he first came up he was just a free swinger. But now he has that recognition. That’s what he’s turned into.”

While Matheny would like Soler to cut down on his strikeouts, he doesn’t want his slugger to lose his aggressiveness.

“He needs to keep thinking about doing damage,” Matheny said. “That’s what he can do. If you lead the league in home runs, I don’t care if it’s Little League, that’s a big deal. Plus, it must be so much fun, right?”

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.