The Miami Marlins started off the 2012 campaign with high hopes and a second baseman who was signed through 2013. Omar Infante was supposed to serve as the second baseman of the 2012 era Marlins as the team tried its bid for contention from now until 2014. Presumably, the Fish would either have an in-house replacement by then or find one, either by re-upping with Infante or looking elsewhere on the free agent market.
The problem came when the Marlins struggled mightily in early parts of 2012 and decided that the core they built for 2012 to 2014 was not going to be able to succeed. This lead to the team reorganizing that core, and Infante was an unfortunate part of the reorganization, as the team shipped him along with Anibal Sanchez off to the Detroit Tigers in return for prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn. Infante was traded more because he was a valuable asset rather than being part of the problem, but the return the Marlins received did not include an immediate replacement for him for the next few seasons.
Enter Donovan Solano.
Solano had impressed the Marlins with a nice Spring Training after coming over as a non-roster invitee this past offseason. The Fish liked him enough that he was one of the final cuts on the team, having done well enough only to be sent to Triple-A New Orleans for the season. However, Solano arrived in the majors due to injuries to backup infielder Donnie Murphy, and he began making an impact off the bench before becoming a starter.
Solano's early work off the bench impressed the Marlins enough to turn to him following Emilio Bonifacio's thumb injury. The initial plan at second base was to play Bonifacio and utilize the Marlins' relative depth in the outfield to fill his center field position, but when Bonifacio re-injured his thumb on a diving play, Solano took over full-time. Solano's play as a part-timer up until that point was very good, as he hit .328/.385/.448 until taking over at third base on a regular basis in Hanley Ramirez's absence.
However, Solano did this in just 67 plate appearances, a very small sample. His regression almost began immediately; by the time he took over for Bonfiacio at second base full-time, he was already hitting .282/.354/.365 in 98 plate appearances. Solano's early success can be easily attributed to a run of good luck with balls in play combined with some well-struck baseballs. In those first 67 PA, Solano was hitting a whopping .425 (!) on balls in play, hence the attractive batting line. I am certain that the Marlins, who appear to be a team that easily falls for small sample sizes and high batting averages, saw that early season success and was excited to see what Solano could do with a full-time job.
Well, Solano showed that he began the regression process fairly soon. From June 25 until the end of the season, Solano hit .286/.331/.357 with a .341 BABIP. While the BABIP was still high, it was understandable given Solano's line drive-hitting this season; a whopping 28.3 percent of his balls in play went for line drives according to data provided by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS). While it is entirely likely that that number should be lower and is up that high in part because Solano got so many hits on balls in play, it still bears plenty of truth with regards to his season. At least in 2012, Solano squared up plenty of singles.
The problem with his season is that he did not really do much else at the plate. Only 16 of Solano's 84 hits went for extra bases, including his only two home runs in the one game against the Atlanta Braves. His 3.2 percent HR/FB rate ranks among the worst in baseball, and his 6.0 percent rate of doubles and triples per balls in play for the defense was poor enough to be lower than Bonifacio's mark from last season, for example. Solano also did not walk often enough or struck out too often to maintain a strong OBP when his batting average did begin to fall.
Still, at least for 2012, Solano could be considered a relative success. The Marlins did not replace their second base position with a blank this season, which is more than what could be said about other spots that were vacated due to injuries or trades. Getting a win from a backup and apparent career minor leaguer in half a season's playing time is worth something to the organization this season. The problem going forward, however, is that Solano is not well-suited for future success and could very well struggle in 2013 if the team depends on a full season from him.