Days after Royals manager Ned Yost conceded that he was having a difficult time finding playing time for Jorge Soler, the club optioned the 25-year-old outfielder to Class AAA Omaha on Saturday morning. The Royals recalled outfielder Billy Burns to fill Soler’s spot on the 25-man roster.
Soler, acquired in an offseason trade that sent Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs, entered Saturday having started just once in the Royals’ last eight games. He was batting .164 with a .292 on-base percentage and one homer since making his Royals debut on May 6. For now, he will return to Omaha, where he can get regular at-bats.
“Soler needs to play, simple as that,” Yost said, following a 12-5 victory against the Cleveland Indians. “We can’t have him sitting here on the bench.
"He’s been working with some things with (hitting coach Dale Sveum), but he needs to play. It doesn’t do him any good; it doesn’t do us any good to have him sitting up here, because he’s going to be a big part of this team in the future.”
Soler, a former top prospect and a marquee addition this offseason, was expected to begin the season as the Royals’ starting right fielder before a strained oblique muscle during the final week of spring training delayed the start of his season. In recent weeks, he had been supplanted in right field by rookie Jorge Bonifacio, who is batting .288 with seven homers.
“It’s been a little bit tough, kind of, finding spots for (Soler),” Yost said earlier this week. “Especially the way Boni has been playing. It’s kind of hard to take (Bonifacio) out of the lineup now.”
Burns, 27, was batting .246 with two doubles, a triple and 13 stolen bases in 39 games at Omaha. He was acquired by the Royals last July 30 in a trade that sent outfielder Brett Eibner to the Oakland A’s. Burns batted .243 with seven runs scored and three steals in 24 games with the Royals in 2016.
The move comes just days after Yost was hesitant to name Bonifacio as the club’s regular right fielder.
“He’s been playing out there a lot,” Yost said Tuesday. “But I’m not going to label him my starting right fielder.”
The hesitance came, in part, from Bonifacio’s limited time at the major-league level and the upside the organization still sees in Soler.
Last December, the Royals saved close to $7 million in payroll by swapping Davis for Soler. They also exchanged a short-term asset for a long-term one, trading one season of Davis, who will be a free agent after 2017, for four seasons of Soler, a former top prospect with prodigious power and a modest track record of success at the major-league level.
The Royals believe the trade will be judged over the length of Soler’s time in Kansas City. He will not be 26 until next February. He is also under club control with a cost-controlled contract. Soler is slated to make $4 million per year over the next three seasons, though he does have the choice of opting out of the contract and entering into salary arbitration this offseason. Either way, the Royals will control him through the 2020 season.
“He’s going to be (a good player),” Yost said. “And he’s going to be for a long time. … Soler is going to be a good player. He just needs to develop some.”