The Yankees’ biggest challenge this offseason was replacing the lost production of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and second baseman Robison Cano. Compensating for both losses figured to take a team effort, but over the first three weeks of the season, one man, Yangervis Solarte, has provided all the answers.
Solarte, a career minor leaguer who spent eight years toiling in the Twins’ and Rangers’ farm systems, forced his way onto the Yankees’ roster by hitting .429/.489/.571 during the exhibition season. March flashes in the pan are an annual rite of spring, but fools good usually makes itself known by the end of April. So far, however, Solarte has shown no signs of tarnish. In 62 plate appearances, the 26-year old rookie has nearly matched his spring performance, compiling a line of .370/.452/.556 while playing competent defense at both second and third. More than just impressive for a journeyman rookie finally getting his shot at the big leagues, Solarte’s fast start would even make perennial All Stars like Rodriguez and Cano blush.
With the loss of Mark Teixeira depleting what already was a woefully undermanned Yankees’ infield, the emergence of Solarte has been a godsend. No matter what happens over the rest of the season, and how the MLB odds shift for the Bronx Bombers, they have extracted three weeks of MVP-caliber performance from a player who was not forecast to have a meaningful role on the 2014 team. But, what about the rest of the season? Solarte shouldn’t be expected to continue his current torrid pace, but can the Yankees count on him to remain a viable option on the infield?
Successful Major League Debuts at Age-26 or older, 1970-2013
Note: Players with an OPS+ of at least 100 in a minimum of 400 plate appearances. White shading represents players with international experience in Japan or Cuba.
Source: baseball- reference.com
According to the baseball-reference.com play index, 874 players have made their major league debuts at age-26 or older and amassed at least the 62 plate appearances that Solarte now has. However, only 65 from that group, or 7.5%, ended their rookie campaign with at least 400 plate appearances and a league average OPS+. Stacking the odds further, only 16 such players have attained these levels since 1970, and half were players who immigrated from either Japan or Cuba.
If the past is any indication, Solarte’s feel good story probably won’t last the year. Although recent comps like Mike Aviles and Dan Uggla leave some room for optimism, the list of journeyman minor leaguers who have failed to rise above replacement level is much longer. That doesn’t mean Solarte can’t beat the odds, but he’ll have to break the mold in order to do so. In the meantime, the Yankees, their fans, and Solarte should enjoy the moment. As long as the team is prepared for Solarte’s more likely regression to his historical comp, there’s no harm in reaping the benefits while he continues to surprise.