Kris Bryant is an other-worldly talent, a special hitter with an advanced approach and a strong baseball pedigree (his father, Mike, played in the Red Sox system). His makeup has L'Oreal execs jealous and his ability to rake has groundskeepers in Des Moines looking for new lines of work.
To be sure, the things Bryant has done across every level of the minors for the Cubs almost seem unreal. But as insane as his .338/.443/.683 slash, 1.126 OPS, 39 HR's and 100 RBI this season might be, it's possible that he's not even the I-Cubs' best hitter.
That's because the Cubs' reigning minor league player of the month isn't Kris Bryant, it's Jorge Soler. I wrote about Soler earlier in the week, though that had more to do with his hustle-related issues and the possible widespread perceptions of Cuban players in general.
Now, however, I'd like to take a quick look at the numbers Soler has put up when he's played. In doing so, however, it's impossible to overlook those last 3 words: when he's played. While he was indeed benched earlier in his MiLB career for dogging it, repeated injury issues have dogged the athletic right fielder.
But when healthy, Soler has proven the Cubs' faith in handing over a 9-year, $30 million contract to the Cuban defector, who was only 20 years old at the time. Only 22 now (a little more than a month younger than Bryant), Soler is nearly 5 years younger than his average competition in the Pacific Coast League (4.6 to be exact).
Prior to the promotion, he was playing with the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League with prospects who averaged around 25 years old. Despite age and cultural differences though, Soler has shone -- and shown out -- in both AA and AAA.
Taking into account 8 rehab games in rookie ball in Arizona, Soler has hit .355/.452/.753 with a 1.181 OPS across 51 contests (and that's after an 0-5 night on Wednesday). Hey, my words are over here, stats-perv! You know what, on second thought, feel free to stare. If I didn't want you to look, I wouldn't have put on such revealing numbers.
Oh, did I mention that he's racked up 33 extra-base hits, including 12 home runs? And that he's walked 28 times against 35 strikeouts? If we look just at 2014, the argument can perhaps be made that Soler has been a better hitter than Bryant, though the case fades a bit when we take total MiLB stats into account.
The case fades further when you consider Soler's inability to stay healthy and almost falls apart when the topic of character issues is brought up. While nothing has arisen lately, it'll be a while before anyone forgets that this is a guy who, bat in hand, instigated a confrontation with the opposing dugout last year.
On the other hand, Soler is doing all of this after basically missing 2011 while defecting from Cuba and attempting to establish residency elsewhere in order to sign a major league contract. That contract is another mark in his favor, as it'll look like a bargain if he continues to hit even close to this in the Bigs.
For all Bryant's general awesomeness, the only flaw one can find is his choice of representation: the much-maligned Scott Boras. While the inability to sign Bryant to a club-friendly extension in the near future doesn't impact his on-field production, it does affect his value to the team.
Soler and Bryant are physical specimens with incredible skill and potential. But where Bryant's game evokes the clean lines and pure aesthetics of an Italian supercar, Soler conjures the raw, utilitarian power of American muscle. Bryant is dreamy, Soler visceral. Both are badass.
Weighing all the factors, measurable and otherwise, I must draw the inevitable conclusion that Jorge Soler is not on the same level as Kris Bryant. But that's also sort of like saying that Kobe Bryant isn't as good as Michael Jordan; he's still a darn fine ballplayer, just not the top of the list.
And the two aren't competing for a roster spot, so it's not as if the Cubs or their fans need to choose one or the other. Between Bryant and Soler, you're talking about nearly 13 feet and 450 pounds of explosive force. When it's all said and done, they could be as physically imposing and intimidating a duo as we've seen in Chicago since Urlacher and Briggs.
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