There has been some serious power in Kansas City this year, and it’s been a very specific kind -- Soler power. At 27 years old, the right-handed-swinging Jorge Soler is becoming the power hitter the Royals have been missing. He’s meeting -- and exceeding -- the expectations that came with
There has been some serious power in Kansas City this year, and it’s been a very specific kind -- Soler power. At 27 years old, the right-handed-swinging Jorge Soler is becoming the power hitter the Royals have been missing. He’s meeting -- and exceeding -- the expectations that came with being a top-25 prospect according to MLB Pipeline entering the 2015 season, a year before the Cubs would trade him to Kansas City for Wade Davis.
What historic place in Royals history is he chasing, and how has he done it? Let’s take a look.
The Royals are the only active franchise that’s never had a player hit 40 home runs. This is their 51st season of existence. They’ve won two World Series. And yet, no player has ever hit 40 home runs in a Royals uniform.
From 1985 through 2016, the record was held by Steve Balboni, who hit 36 homers in 1985. Then, in 2017, Mike Moustakas hit 38 to set the franchise mark two higher than where Balboni had placed it.
But now Soler has 35 home runs in mid-August and appears primed to hold that record all for himself. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason he won’t break the record -- and then some. He’s on pace for 45 home runs, if he plays in every remaining game this season, which he very likely may do, considering he’s played in every one of Kansas City’s games thus far.
The league standing
Not only is Soler already boasting 35 home runs and on pace for more than 40, but he’s also currently second in the American League in home runs behind Mike Trout. No Royals player has ever led the AL in home runs. Trout has a lead of six home runs on Soler, so it isn’t necessarily currently in the cards for this year’s Royals season either, but Soler’s AL standing may still be notable, if he finishes at least second.
No Royals player has ever finished better than third in the American League in home runs. The first to do it was John Mayberry in 1975, with 34, behind Reggie Jackson and George Scott, who each hit 36.
Then, in 1985 when Balboni hit 36, he finished third behind Darrell Evans (40) and Carlson Fisk (37). In 1987, Danny Tartabull finished tied for third in the AL with 34 homers, behind Mark McGwire (49) and George Bell (47).
The raw power
So, how is he doing all of this? It sounds simple -- he’s absolutely crushing the ball. But let’s dig into that concept a little further.
He has 52 barrels this season -- that’s batted balls with an optimal combination of launch angle and exit velocity, which typically result in extra-base hits. That’s the most by any Royals player in a season tracked by Statcast (since 2015). The prior most was 48 by Kendrys Morales in 2016. And for Soler, it's still August.
How’s this for a career arc? Soler has 314 batted balls this season, and 52 have been barreled. From 2015-18, he had 629 batted balls, and 62 barrels.
He has a 92.4 mph average exit velocity this season -- his highest in any complete season tracked by Statcast (since 2015) was 91.7 mph in 2015. He has a 48.4 percent hard-hit rate, which would also be his highest in a season under Statcast -- with his current highest mark being 43.1 percent in that 2015 season.
His exit velocity and hard-hit rate aren’t just on pace to be career-highs, they’re also highly-ranked among players this season overall. His exit velocity is 95th percentile and his hard-hit rate is 94th percentile, and his expected slugging percentage -- based on exit velocity, launch angle and strikeouts -- is 97th percentile. That’s some solid contact.
He’s swinging almost exactly as frequently as last season, but he’s whiffing less -- with a 32.6 percent whiff rate in 2019 compared to 36.3 percent in 2018.
The second half
Soler hit his first home run of the season on April 6 and had seven through the end of April, so it’s not like he hasn’t been hitting them all year. But he’s been on another level in the second half.
After hitting 23 home runs in the first half in 91 games, he’s crushed 12 in 33 second-half games so far. He is second in the Majors with 19 barrels in that span, behind only Yordan Alvarez (20).
He has a .729 slugging percentage in the second half, fourth among qualified hitters in the AL behind Nelson Cruz, Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman. Only three American Leaguers have more homers than Soler since the break.
Barring injury, Soler appears to be well on his way to being crowned the royal single-season home run recordholder in Kansas City, establishing himself among the top power hitters in the American League.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.