Closing Time: Jorge Soler powers up

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9228/" data-ylk="slk:Jorge Soler">Jorge Soler</a> is finding his game in Kansas City (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Jorge Soler is finding his game in Kansas City (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

I’m not paying a lot of attention to the Royals this year. They’re 9-22, the worst team in a lousy AL Central. They’re 26th in runs scored, dead last in ERA. This team is on a road to nowhere.

So we look for positives where we can find them. Mike Moustakas has been his usual self, a terrific hitter. And Jorge Soler might be finally turning it on.

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You probably remember Soler’s break into baseball, a 22-year-old rookie with the Cubs in 2014. He had a splashy 2015 playoffs, going 9-for-19 with three homers. Chicago’s farm system was so overloaded with prospects at the time, it was difficult to tell some of the young talent apart. The prospect hounds were all over Soler from 2013 to 2015.

Although Soler had his October moment, he didn’t do much in the regular seasons of 2015 and 2016. His OPS-plus was 99 and 103 for those two years, basically an average baseball player. The Cubs had an overflow of playable outfielders. Soler shipped out of town in December 2016, in exchange for relief pitcher Wade Davis.

Soler’s first American League season was ruined before it really got started. He suffered an oblique injury in April and only played 35 dreadful games in Kansas City (.144/.245/.258); the rest of his summer was spent in Omaha. And while Soler did post 24 homers and a .952 OPS over 74 Triple-A games, that’s cheapened by his age and experience level. We had to openly question, is Soler just a Quad-A player?

Perhaps things are coming together in Soler’s age-26 season. He’s off to a .312/.435/.538 start, with four homers. Walks have spiked, strikeouts are down eight percent. Ned Yost recently slotted Soler in the No. 2 spot in the order, between the team’s two key offensive pieces — Whit Merrifield and Moustakas. If you have to be anywhere in Kansas City, that’s the place to be.

Soler is already rostered in the deeper leagues, but the medium crowd can still bust in. He’s currently owned at 20 percent in Yahoo leagues. Get our your post-hype ledger and make another entry.

• Just five weeks ago, Ian Happ looked like a player ready to bust out. He cranked a home run on the first pitch of the year, a rocket in Miami. The Cubs used Happ as the leadoff man in 10 of the first 15 games.

But Happ’s had a devil of a time making contact, and with that, the Cubs have phased him out a bit. He’s now in the bottom quad of the batting order, when he even plays at all. Happ should thank the gods for his .412 BABIP, because it’s the only reason he’s hitting .233. A .282 OBP and .384 slugging percentage are not playable, and he’s striking out a ridiculous 46.2 percent of the time.

Joe Maddon insists Happ is not a candidate for a demotion, albeit the team said the same type of stuff last year before Kyle Schwarber got the Iowa ticket. I don’t blame any fantasy owner who cuts Happ. He’s not playing all the time (Chicago’s depth works against him), his confidence might be in the tank, and that contact rate will blind you. Happ is still owned in 58 percent of Yahoo leagues, a number that seems optimistic as we work through the first week of May. (Happ for Soler? That’s a Midwest swap I’ll sign off on.)

• Last call on Walker Buehler, who is finally getting a rotation spot to call his own. Buehler looked the part in his first two auditions for the Dodgers (10 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 11 K), and now there’s an opening after Hyun-jin Ryu injured his groin this week. Ryu is expected to miss multiple months.

Obviously Buehler won’t be a workhorse in LA — he only pitched 88.2 innings last year, and the team wants to be careful with the 23-year-old prospect. But he was expected to be a quick riser after being the 24th overall pick from Vanderbilt University in 2015, and his minor-league numbers were delicious (12.4 K/9, 3.04 ERA, almost four whiffs for every walk). And heck, it’s a world where most pitchers don’t work deep into games. If Buehler is going to give us 5-6 strong innings, more often than not, every fifth day, I’m interested.

If you’re in a scouting mood Friday, block off some time. Buehler starts at San Diego, up against the also-intriguing Joey Lucchesi. Sidle up next to The Chicken, get your popcorn ready.

Back to Buehler, Matthew Broderick’s favorite pitcher is available in 55 percent of Yahoo leagues. If the pitch counts get too high, we’ll roll back the mileage after the game.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8846/" data-ylk="slk:Julio Teheran">Julio Teheran</a> was locked in against the Mets (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julio Teheran was locked in against the Mets (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

• I’ve had some trouble with the Julio Teheran matrix over the years, but he’s come together nicely after a slow start.

The Phillies knocked Teheran around opening day and the Nats hit three home runs off him in a messy turn, but the last five starts have been terrific. Here’s the cumulative haul: 29 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 12 BB, 30 K. He’s bumped his swinging strike rate to 14 percent over this stretch, though a .232 BABIP has been fortunate. The slumping Mets couldn’t do a thing with Teheran on Thursday; they were hitless into the seventh inning.

The thing that makes me especially excited about Teheran is the idea that the 2018 Braves might be a special team. Look at all that young, explosive talent. I’ll still try to shield Teheran from some of the trickier matchups, but I’m looking forward to next week’s turn at Tampa Bay.

• Another Braves player having a renaissance season is outfielder Nick Markakis, the normal cleanup man. Batting fourth is always something we appreciate, but it’s especially fun when it comes behind Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña and Freddie Freeman. The Braves have another quality player, Ender Inciarte, tucked into the No. 9 spot in the order. Markakis had three hits, including a homer, in Thursday’s 11-0 laugher over the Mets. He also drew a walk.

Good teammates do not explain why Markakis is off to a stunning .336/.429/.529 start in his age-34 season. He’s been an above-average hitter for most of his career, even if he never really lived up to the promise we saw in the early stages of his Baltimore career. Markakis is commanding the strike zone, with 20 walks against 12 strikeouts — anyone with more walks than strikeouts is immediately interesting to us. He’s also bumped up his line-drive rate, though his hard-contact rate is static.

Even with Markakis a sure thing to cool off, I want as many players as I can in this offense. The Braves lead the majors in batting average, OBP, and slugging, and they’re just six runs out of the scoring lead. It’s must-see TV, for the young players and the older guys.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy BehrensDalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski

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