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Who is Alay Soler?

With lots of Spring Training fluff pieces dominating the mainstream media outlets, the read of the day easily goes to Christian Red's Lots of heart and Soler in Sunday's Daily News.

Tangible information on Cuban RHP Alay Soler has only trickled in since the Mets inked him to a three-year, $2.8 million deal in the summer of 2004, but Red's article paints a picture of Soler as a family man first and a ballplayer second. It also recounts the circumstances which led to his belated arrival in the States, including the shameless malfeasance of then-agent Joe Cubas.

Soler's current agent, Joe Rosario, appears to have only his client's best interests at heart. I gather from the article that Rosario acts as Soler's interpreter (Soler's native language is Spanish) at least part of the time, and he amused/impressed me with several quotes from the Daily News piece:

On Soler's trip to Shea Stadium:

"He stood on the mound and looked all around," says Rosario. "Then he said it was too damn cold and that we should go."
On Soler's role in Spring Training:
"It would be amazing if he didn't make the team."
On a passerby offering to catch one of Soler's fastballs with a regular glove:
"You kidding? Ninety-six, bro. That thing will break your hand."
Soler has gone largely unmentioned in reports of the Mets' plans for this upcoming season, and I have found myself guilty of that as well. Soler made 10 Winter Ball appearances in the Puerto Rican league, seven of which were starts. His 2.36 ERA was outstanding, but his peripherals (6.16 K/9, 2.00 K/BB) were just average. He surrendered only 30 hits in 49.2 innings of work, which is an abnormally low hit rate. Pedro Martinez allowed 0.73 hits per inning, so it would be a surprise of biblical proportions for Soler to somehow maintain his 0.60 H/IP pace.

There's a very good chance that he was unusually lucky and that his H/9 will regress back towards the mean, something like the 1.01 H/9 National League average in 2005. It's tough to draw too many conclusions from 50 innings against Winter League hitters, though not necessarily any less so than the 30 innings he'll throw against scrubs and career minor leaguers in Spring Training.

Perhaps to the chagrin of his agent, the right move would be for Soler to start the season in AA or AAA and see how he fares against decent minor leaguers in a larger sample before giving him a big league roster spot over someone more deserving like Heath Bell or Juan Padilla.