Sorry for the lack of updates this morning from Milwaukee, where – this actually happened – the wireless Internet crashed for the entire city. It’s been a quiet day thus far, which gives us time to pass along an interesting nugget on the Nationals’ international front.
The Nationals have been keeping free agent-to-be Yoennis Cespedes on their radar, but Cespedes is not the only Cuban defector they have their sights on. The Nationals are also interested in Jorge Soler, a 19-year-old outfielder who defected this year and, according to a person familiar with the timetable, could become a free agent within weeks.
Soler is an athletic, 6-foot-3 outfielder who can play center field but will likely end up as a corner outfielder. His high upside and potential to hit for power has made him a player coveted by a gaggle of teams.
“He’s got a Hanley Ramirez-type body,” Nationals Director of International Scouting Johnny DiPuglia said. “Plus arm. Plus bat speed. He’s a good kid, a good-energy kid.”
The Nationals, Yankees, Cubs and Rangers are among the teams who have shown the most significant interest in Soler. People familiar with the situation expect Soler to sign a contract similar to, but likely richer than, the three-year, $15.5 million deal the Texas Rangers gave Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin.
Soler would probably need 800 to 1,000 at-bats in the minor leagues, and therefore would not be an immediate solution to the Nationals’ search for a center fielder. But he has more upside than even Cespedes, who, at 26, has established his ability level and is ready to play in the major leagues.
DiPuglia has known Soler for years, having formed a relationship that began when DiPuglia watched him as a 15-year-old. DiPuglia would chat with him after games, even if it meant drawing the ire of Cuban security. After one game, Soler gave DiPuglia his jersey as a gift for his daughter.
In 2007, DiPuglia was scouting an international youth tournament game in Mexico. The Cuban team, led by Soler, played the U.S. team led by a 15-year-old named Bryce Harper.
“They were by far the two best players on the field,” DiPuglia said.
The game went to extra innings, at which point international rules dictated runners be placed on first and second base. Harper was pitching for the Unites States – “he was throwing 92, 93,” DiPuglia said – and Soler came to the plate. The U.S. coach ordered Harper to walk to Soler.
“Harper wanted to pitch to him,” DiPuglia said. “They started going at it with hand gestures. Soler was telling him he wanted to hit, Harper was going back at him. He had to walk him. I’m sure Bryce would remember facing him.”
We’re still a long from knowing if Harper and Soler will be reunited with the Nationals, but Soler is a name to keep in mind.