Where do you start judging Yangervis Solarte? We have 2,804 minor league plate appearances that say one thing about the infielder, but Spring Training and 53 MLB plate appearances say another. For anyone that hasn’t watched Solarte hit, his blistering start to the 2014 season doesn’t look like much more than small sample size. For many Yankee fans, Solarte’s bat is a much needed injection of talented youth into the team’s lineup. For those realistic about the switch-hitter, we still have no idea what he is.
When Solarte came up with the Twins, he showed promise as a contact hitter. In 2010, as a 22 year old in rookie ball, high-A, and double-A, the infielder hit .292/.328/.401. In his next full season at double-A in 2011, Solarte hit .329/.367/.466. His lack of strikeouts unfortunately came with a lack of both walks and home runs. Yet New Britain Stadium is a notoriously tough ballpark to hit in, and Stat Corner gave the park just a 74 rating for home runs to lefties and a 72 rating for home runs to righties that season. Solarte’s park adjusted wOBA was an impressive .370 in 2011, ever after hitting just 7 home runs.
Despite his strong performance in Double-A, Solarte was granted free agency at the end of 2011 and signed with the Rangers for the next two seasons. Even with a new hitter friendly home ballpark in Dell Diamond, Solarte had a lot of trouble hitting at home. His splits in 2012 had him OPSing .822 on the road, but just .652 at home. Likewise, his right-handed swing produced an .809 OPS that season, while his lefty swing held just a .716 OPS. Of course in 2013, he hit better at home than on the road, OPSing .753 at Dell Stadium and .700 everywhere else. His right-handed swing again outhit his left-handed by a considerable amount, though the majority of his home runs came from the left side.
The more you look at Solarte’s splits, the more back and forth they go. Though he remained very good at making contact over his minor league career, his platoon splits as a switch hitter bounced back and forth year to year. Over his last few years in the minor leagues, Solarte looked like a very tough out, more willing to take a walk, and less willing to take a strike out. His splits indicate that he did this better from the right-handed side of the plate, and from the left-handed side, he was slightly more prone to strike out, as well as poorer contact numbers, but more power. There’s a lack of data to justify this assumption, but it looks like Solarte was a ground ball and line drive hitter from the right-handed side, while he was a fly ball hitter from the left-handed side.
So now we’re in 2014, and Solarte has crushed the ball from both sides in his small sample of spring training and 53 MLB plate appearance. As a left-handed hitter, he owns a .393/.485/.536 slash (33 PA’s), and from the right-handed side, he’s hitting .278/.350/.389 (20 PA’s). Again, we’re seeing more pop from the left-side of the plate, while he’s more contact (less strikeouts and walks) from the right-side. One key difference for Solarte so far is that he’s taken his walks (5 BB’s to 4 K’s) from the left-handed side as well, an indication that he’s laying off bad pitches out of the strike zone.
In terms of contact, Solarte is batting .188 on ground balls, .444 on fly balls, and .833 on line drives. We can actually expect him to get more hits on ground balls going forward, presumably helping him increase his contact rates from the right-side. His line drive rates are a bit lucky, and we’ll probably see that fall slightly to around a .700 average once he gets a larger sample size. His fly ball rates are the most interesting numbers, which is where all 6 of his doubles came from. For someone that’s watched Solarte hit, I wouldn’t call his .444 average on fly balls lucky, however it will not continue. In his first few games, outfielders played Solarte in, as they didn’t expect a career minor league infielder to hit many balls over their heads. He did just that, and the 6 doubles that came in his first 27 plate appearances were all shots to the warning track. As outfielders saw his power, Solarte hasn’t hit an extra base hit since.
Over his last 26 plate appearances, Solarte hit just .227/.346/.227 with 5 singles and 4 walks. He hasn’t looked overmatched though, and as I indicated above, he’s been fairly unlucky with his ground balls. He’ll be a tough out, especially if he continues to take his walks. With a great eye at the plate, he needs to prove that he can make more than just just contact with the ball, but hard contact. The Twins and Rangers soured on him because of the lack of power, and over the last 26 plate appearances, we’re seeing exactly that. His early season at bats indicate that he can make that contact, but at what rate?
Solarte looks very much like what we saw from a young Melky Cabrera, and Cabrera’s 2006 .280/.360/.391 slash isn’t out of the question. Given a full season, he probably won’t hit many more than 10 home runs, but a respectable average and on base percentage as a utility infielder could go a very long way for a Yankee team relying on Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts in the middle infield.