Last year about this time, this wouldn't have even been a question. Javier Baez was tearing up AA and Jorge Soler was injured and losing a half season of much needed development.
Baez hasn't done anything to hurt his stock. In fact, he is developing nicely. However, Jorge Soler is shooting up the prospect charts once again after crushing the Southern League then getting rewarded with a promotion to AAA Iowa. It's the first time the friends and former roommates will be together since the FSL early last season. So it got me to thinking, when it comes to pure offensive potential, who has the higher ceiling -- and who is more likely to get there?
I polled some industry contacts and it is surprisingly split, with everyone saying it was close but a majority leaning toward Baez on raw ceiling. The general response is similar to the one below,
I'd probably say Baez has the higher ceiling offensively. He's just got crazy bat speed, and at this point, more of a track record to point to. But it's close, which is to say Soler seems to be an impressive bat as well.
However, more than one of those polled said that despite Baez's superior ceiling, they'd prefer to have Soler if they had to choose. They felt he was the safer bet because of his superior approach and plate discipline. One source thinks Jorge Soler could be similar to Adam Jones in terms of his average and power numbers, though Soler appears to be a more disciplined hitter than Jones. On the other hand, Jones adds value with his ability to play CF. He also worried about Baez's tendency to want to pull pitches and thinks he may get a steady diet of sliders low and away in the majors. Baez has shown an ability to go the other way, though he doesn't do it as easily as another highly regarded Cubs prospect -- Kris Bryant. Baez will have to be more diligent about taking pitches and/or taking pitches the other way if he is to hit for average. But even if he doesn't, the source felt he will provide plenty of value with his power no matter where he ends up defensively.
I have seen both players often in the past few years and their personalities are very different. Baez plays with an intensity that is palpable. Soler can appear laid back.
Baez sometimes plays with a scowl on his face. Nothing personal, but if you are on the mound or in the other dugout, he does not like you. He can barely contain his energy. He stays busy at the plate as if he can't wait for you to just try and challenge him with a fastball. He'd like nothing more than to beat you and if he can embellish that with a 500 foot HR with contact so loud that it makes your ears bleed, then so much the better.
Soler is the smiling assassin. He has that humble, boyish grin but he is all business at the plate. He is patient. He is disciplined and he waits for you to make a mistake. He is still and quiet, right up until the pitch approaches, then his hands suddenly explode through the zone. It's like a profound disturbance in the force, as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror and then were silent again.
I have to admit that I did have some concerns about Soler early in his career, particularly when I saw him in instructs, where that laid back personality sometimes manifested itself in the workouts. It's not that he didn't work hard, it's that he had trouble adjusting to the steady routine and pace, sometimes needing a gentle push in the right direction. But once he got started it was all business again. It wasn't a lack of work ethic so much as it was adapting to a more organized and individualized structure here. Soler seemed to indicate as much in this interview.
Baez's high energy personality and head start here in the U.S. made him more readily adaptable, but Soler is catching on...fast. Theo Epstein has seen the change as Soler has adapted to the different lifestyle.
“We’re impressed by how he’s sort of taken responsibility for his own development,” Epstein said Wednesday, “taken accountability for being on the field and for getting where he wants to be. He basically told us: ‘It’s my time. Watch me.’ And he’s gone out and done it.”
Both players are together now at Iowa and on the brink of their MLB debut. Soler may make his debut this season because he is already on the roster and could use the extra at-bats in September. Baez's situation is more complicated, but I described a couple of scenarios where the Cubs might make an exception to their general rule and call him up this year.
They are two very talented players with high ceilings and (now) a reasonably high probability of success. There is some talk the two could be paired as roommates. It is an interesting pairing and perhaps each could benefit from each other's strengths on the field.
And unlike the sources I asked earlier in the piece, the Cubs don't have to choose between the two. As different as they are, the two together have one thing in common -- the potential to terrorize NL pitchers for the next decade in the middle of what should be a very good Cubs lineup