A blazing fastball, Herculean power or rabbit-like speed. These are the types of superlatives that are often bandied about when discussing baseball's top prospects.
But every once in a while, there's a prospect who doesn't even need to display his talents on the field, anyone within eye-shot just knows he's special. That seems to be the case with the Cubs' big-money signee from Cuba, Jorge Soler.
"The first thing that jumps out is his body," Cubs' vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said of the 6-3, 205-pound Soler. "He's a very large, strong, young man. Your eyes go right to him when you see him step out on the field. He's a physical specimen."
While his size is already impressive, Soler, who signed with the Cubs in June to a reported nine year, $30 million deal, still has room to add to his 20-year-old frame. And when he's actually playing in a game, Soler has shown that the excitement generated from his appearance is justified.
"Power and strength are going to be a big part of his game," McLeod said. "When he does fulfill his potential, we think he has a chance at being a power, run-producing bat in the middle of a major league lineup."
It may seem obvious that McLeod would sing Soler's praises, but watching Soler only confirms what he says. It's easy to see why Soler's large frame often garners comparisons to former Cubs' star Sammy Sosa.
"The strength and swing really jump out at you," said one rival NL scout. "He's quick to the ball but he's long in the zone, the ball jumps off the bat real well and he shows a pretty good feel for the strike zone as well. He's going to be an impact offensive threat."
After 14 games in the Arizona Rookie League, Cubs' brass decided Soler was ready for full-season baseball and sent him to its low-A affiliate Peoria Chiefs. Soler didn't disappoint, as he posted a .338/.398/.513 line, with three home runs and five doubles in 20 games.
Despite only walking six times, Soler displayed the ‘feel for the strike zone' that the scout mentioned by striking out only six times in 80 at-bats. While his play in right field still needs improvement -- specifically his routes to the ball -- he's gotten rave reviews for his strong arm and has the instincts and athleticism needed to eventually be a strong defensive player.
Soler often gets compared to fellow Cuban refugee Yoenis Cespedes. But outside of their Cuban heritage and impressive displays of power, the two aren't very similar. Cespedes, who signed with the Oakland Athletics prior to spring training, is four inches shorter, over six years Soler's senior and came to the UP.SS. major league ready.
Cespedes has not disappointed in his first big league season (.289/.344/.475 with 16 home runs), adding a much needed offensive boost to a surprising Athletics team that is currently atop the AL Wild Card standings.
"I definitely look to (Cespedes) for motivation," Soler said through translator and Peoria teammate Kenny Socorro. "There aren't an abundant amount of Cubans in the big leagues, so any time I see any big leaguers that are Cuban, it's motivation because I'd like to be one of the select few."
Soler's life in the United States, both on and off the field, hasn't been as difficult a transition as one would imagine. With more access to everything he needs, Soler says life is more comfortable in the US.
"It's not too different, but the big difference is that every player is a little more polished," Soler said when asked to compare playing in Cuba and the United States. "Pitchers throw a little harder, they locate their pitches a little better (in the US). It's a different level, but the game itself is the same."
Though he's impressed thus far in his short stint in the minors, the Cubs opted not to send Soler to the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a league that runs from early October to mid-November and consists of six teams comprised of multiple prospects from every MLB team's minor league system.
McLeod said the decision was based more on experience rather than talent. When he signed in June, Soler hadn't played since November. If he had gotten a full season of minor league ball under his belt, McLeod felt that Soler likely would have been someone they placed on the AFL roster. However, with his inexperience, the Cubs decided having him work in the instructional league was better for his development.
"It's more intensive instruction and more one on one," McLeod said of the instructional league. "You can really break down mechanics and zero in on areas for improvement. They play about three games a week, so you're still getting live action. So he'll get four weeks of instructional league then an offseason strength and conditioning program."
While he's been pleased with how he's performed so far, Soler says his offseason goals include getting in better overall shape to be prepared physically for the next level, working on his defense and fine tuning his swing.
Though he's admired Cespedes' success in the big league from afar and undoubtedly is eager to patrol the same right field that Sosa once did, Soler knows he has his work cut out for him before he's ready to perform at the highest level.
"Yes, of course (I'm looking forward to seeing Wrigley)," Soler said with a smile. "(But) I still need to make a lot of adjustments to get to the big leagues."
The Cubs can only hope that when Soler finally does arrive in Chicago, not only will his appearance elicit memories of Sosa, but his stat line will as well.