Miami Marlins fans who read Fish Stripes know that I am not as big a fan of the team's starting second baseman for 2013, Donovan Solano, as some others are. For me, Solano represents a mirage for which the Marlins front office often falls. Rather than seeing him for who he is based on his past performance, I feel the Fish have fallen in love with his luck-aided performance in 2012 and are now counting on him to help in the future as well.
But unfortunately, as much of a mirage as Solano may be, he is also the team's only real option at second base, and that position is the next topic of the 2013 Miami Marlins Season Preview series.
1. Donovan Solano
2. Chone Figgins
Minor League Depth: Nick Green
The Marlins will turn to Solano for a full season's worth of work after being decently impressed by his rookie campaign in 2012. Solano was brought up to the majors to play a bench role following injuries to players like Omar Infante. With the team in need of middle infield help, the Marlins turned to Solano because he had had a decent spring training with them that helped earn him a spot on the Triple-A roster. However, Solano was not doing well in Triple-A to begin with, having batted, .262/.327/.326 (.302 wOBA) in a hitter's league. That translated to a batting line that was 27 percent below average for Triple-A standards.
But Solano came in and outperformed all of that in the majors, hitting .295/.342/.375 (.314 wOBA) and accomplishing enough to earn himself a starting role after Infante's and Hanley Ramirez's midseason departures and playing the rest of the season relatively injury-free. Solano's line and passable defense impressed the Marlins enough to consider him a shoe-in for one of the positions that would be open in 2013, and he eventually became one of the few "guarantees" heading into this upcoming season.
The problem is that, with Solano, a repeat performance is anything but guaranteed. A cursory glance at his numbers reveals some very anomalous figures that signal regression in 2013. The first and easiest place to look would be at his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Solano had a 316 plate appearance sample in which he hit .354 on balls in play, getting his batting average near .300. But that mark is difficult to sustain over a long period of time; from 2010 to 2012, only six players with at least 1000 plate appearances managed a better BABIP than .354, and only nine players managed something better than .350. That list ranges from great players like Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez to no-names like Wilson Betemit and our very own speedster Emilio Bonifacio. Based on only 316 plate appearances, can we really say that Solano is one of the top five or six BABIPers in the game? Not likely, at least not yet.
The problem is that, without BABIP, Solano has very little else to offer. He lacks power, as evidenced by a career Triple-A ISO of .079. He did not exactly display any power last season either. He also has old Bonifacio-level skills in terms of plate discipline, particularly in terms of walks. Solano walked even less than Bonifacio did in the minors, with a minor league career walk rate of just 6.1 percent and a Triple-A rate of 5.6 percent. His sole advantage over Bonifacio is that he did a better job avoiding strikeouts than his old utility man counterpart, as Solano struck out in only 13.1 percent of his Triple-A appearances.
You might say that Bonifacio eventually developed into a passable major league hitter, and he did so at a similar age as Solano's. But despite Solano's success on the bases last year (seven stolen bases in as many attempts), he has never shown much skill in that department in the past. For his minor league career, he only has 26 steals on 36 attempts, and that is encompassing a 738-game career. Bonifacio has legendary speed, and had it at the time the Fish acquired him. Solano lacks any of that dynamic aspect of the game.
So overall, Solano is similar to Bonifacio in that he indeed could develop plate discipline to help his limited game, but he still would not reach the level Bonifacio reached in 2011 and 2012. The Marlins are dealing with a player who might not perform up to snuff in 2013.
No projection system, not even the relatively optimistic fans, guessed anything close to a repeat season for Solano. A .292 wOBA is akin to the sort of line players like Yuniesky Betancourt and Brandon Inge have put up over the last three years. In other words, such a line is not very good, and Solano is not expected to help much on the basepaths either. All the projection systems expect a drop down to normal BABIP levels, and that combined with his minimal walk rate leave him without much impact at the plate.
As for defense, I am willing to give him league average marks along with the average wOBA of .287 across the systems. What does that leave us with in terms of a projection?
Projection: 513 PA, 0.7 WAR
This is a very light projection for a player who likely is not very good. Solano cannot be expected to excel without either strong defense, stronger offense, or a baserunning game, and right now, there is not a lot of promise for any of those aspects.
The Rest of the Team
The Marlins infamously lack depth in the middle infield, and that includes second base. Minor league free agent Chone Figgins has a very good chance of making the team as a non-roster invitee, but there is an argument that he was the worst position player in baseball over the last three years. He still maintains baserunning value offensively, but his Gold Glove defense is gone after switching positions multiple times, and he can no longer make contact with the ball very often. Essentially, Figgins is a broken player, and the Marlins signed him because there was no one else available.
Nick Green spent parts of last season with the major league team, but spent most of last season either on the DL or going nuts against Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .344/.397/.599 (.425 wOBA) line. This was practically unbelievable, and Green promptly returned to being the slap-hitting infielder that he is. His primary advantage to making the team in 2013 is that he can play shortstop.