Royals’ Jorge Soler is healthy, invigorated after trip home to Cuba

Hail covers sidewalks at Royals spring training

A day of rain, hail and sleet keep the Kansas City Royals from taking their spring training workout outside on Thursday Feb. 21, 2019 in Surprise, Arizona.
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A day of rain, hail and sleet keep the Kansas City Royals from taking their spring training workout outside on Thursday Feb. 21, 2019 in Surprise, Arizona.

Royals outfielder Jorge Soler’s offseason recipe for success included rest, rehab and a return to Cuba.

The the 6-foot-4, 230-pound native of Havana, Soler spoke with reporters on Thursday for the first time since arriving at Royals spring training in Arizona.

Soler is heading into his third season with the Royals. He broke into the majors with the Chicago Cubs in 2014 and was part of the Cubs’ World Series championship run in 2016.

Soler is coming off a season that ended with him on the 60-day disabled list due to a toe fracture in his left foot — his season cut short after playing in 61 games.

He didn’t play in a big-league game after June 15.

“To be honest, it was very hard,” Soler said with assistant major league strength and conditioning coach and Latin America strength and conditioning coordinator Luis Perez serving as interpreter. “It was a good start, and I was feeling great. All of a sudden out of the blue I got the injury. It was tough on me and my family.”

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Soler, 26, has played in 307 major-league games since 2014 — never more than 101 games in any season. He has spent time in the minors each of those seasons, starting with 2014.

Soler said he’s fully healthy and recovered from his injury. He also said through the interpreter that he’s “crazy” to get back and play a full season since he hasn’t done that thus far in the majors.

His first return trip to Cuba marked the highlight of Soler’s offseason. Soler, a Cuban defector, signed with the Cubs in 2012. His countryman Yoenis Cespedes signed with the Oakland A’s that same year.

Up until 2013, Cuban defectors were barred from returning to the country. However, new travel regulations allow athletes to return if they’d been away at least eight years.

In 2018, the Cuban Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball reached an agreement that allowed Cuban players to sign with MLB clubs without defecting. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the country also altered regulations in order to allow Cubans who left the country illegally to return for visits.

Soler’s return trip was his first in eight years. He said his mother, sister and father live in the United States, but it was his first time seeing extended family, he said with a wide grin.

“I spent 12 days,” Soler said. “There was a lot to do, but I didn’t get a chance to cover everything. But I visited with a lot of people and spent a lot of time at the beach that’s close to ... home.”

Soler batted .265 last season with the Royals with an .820 on-base plus slugging. He hit nine home runs, 18 doubles and also drove in 28 runs in 61 games.

“His production was right where we had hoped it to be before he got hurt,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.