Can Braves harness Soler's power at DH?
ATLANTA -- When Jorge Soler returned from the COVID-19 injured list last week, the Braves didn’t have room for him in their starting lineup. But the powerful outfielder seems to be a perfect candidate to serve as a designated hitter against the Astros in the World Series.
With American League-champion Houston owning home-field advantage, Atlanta could use Soler as its DH in World Series Games 1 and 2, and if necessary, Games 6 and 7. The DH will not be used during any of the three games that could be played in Atlanta.
By using Soler as their DH, the Braves would get his power back in their lineup without being burdened by his defensive limitations as an outfielder. He was serviceable as a right fielder, but he is not as defensively skilled as Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson or Adam Duvall, who teamed to serve as Atlanta’s outfield trio during the National League Championship Series.
Soler served as Atlanta’s everyday right fielder from the time he was acquired from the Royals on July 30 through testing positive for COVID on Oct. 12, a few hours before the decisive Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Brewers.
After the Braves made the outside-the-box decision to move Soler to the leadoff spot on Sept. 20, the 29-year-old slugger responded by producing a .365 on-base percentage and a .947 OPS over the final 11 games of the regular season. He went 1-for-11 with two walks in the three NLDS games he played before testing positive.
Soler has apologized for letting his team down by not previously being vaccinated, a decision that also cost him his spot in Atlanta’s everyday lineup.
When Soler was added back to Atlanta’s roster on Thursday, he wasn’t going to replace Rosario, who has produced a 1.313 OPS this postseason, or Pederson, who has once again delivered big hits throughout Joctober. Duvall hasn’t been as good with the bat, but he is the best option to play center field.
So, Soler will need to take advantage of the chance to serve as a DH. Rosario’s success in the leadoff spot could keep him in that role, unless Soler is positioned at the top of the lineup when Astros lefty Framber Valdez starts Game 1.
There’s also an argument that Soler is the best fit in the leadoff role because putting Rosario next to Freddie Freeman at the top of the lineup makes Atlanta susceptible to left-handed relievers.
Soler hit just .192 with 13 homers and a .658 OPS in 360 plate appearances for Kansas City this season. He batted .269 with 14 homers and a .882 OPS in 242 regular-season plate appearances for Atlanta. The 14.9 at-bats-per-home-run ratio he produced for the Braves was at least more similar to the 12.3 AB/HR ratio he produced while hitting 48 homers for the Royals in 2019.
While Soler has the potential to beat opponents with his power, his most impressive production in Atlanta came via his improved plate discipline. For the Royals this year, he had a 10.6 percent walk rate and 26.9 percent strikeout rate. After joining the Braves, he had a 12 percent walk rate and an 18.6 percent strikeout rate.
Now, the Braves have to hope Soler picks up where he left off in the regular season. His eighth-inning double off Kenley Jansen in Saturday night’s win over the Dodgers certainly created some encouragement about what he could offer in the World Series.