The Miami Marlins turned to Donovan Solano to take on the second base job in 2013, but Solano's struggles at the plate pushed him aside by midseason. But towards the end of the year, circumstances brought him back into the fold and the Marlins saw more of the same from an overmatched, replacement-level talent.
But Solano did one thing well in 2013, and that was enough for the Fish to give him plenty of unwarranted playing time.
Solano was a terrible hitter in 2013, and there was no way around it. Last season, he ran into good luck by hitting .357 on balls in play, but this year that luck disappeared and then some in the form of a .287 mark. That sent his batting average and OBP careening, as he never developed skills at the plate to stabilize his OBP with a decent walk rate.
Solano did drop his strikeouts in 2013 to 14.4 percent, and that may have been a result of an aggressive approach inside the strike zone. Solano increased his swing rate in the zone to 65 percent in 2013, and he made contact on those pitches at a 92 percent clip this past season, yielding a lot of balls in play and an ability to avoid strikeouts. This was one of the only skills he displayed in the minors, and he will have to maintain or improve on this to be successful in the majors.
This is because, unsurprisingly, Solano has no power. Last year, he found two homers in a game versus the Atlanta Braves, and this year he hit long balls at similar rates. Over the last two seasons, Solano's 3.5 percent home runs per fly ball (HR/FB) rate ranks as the 23rd-lowest in baseball, around guys like Adeiny Hechavarria and Emilio Bonifacio (hey look, more Marlins!). Solano's .073 ISO is the ninth-worst among that same group of players. He has been one of the most popless bats in baseball over the last two years, and that cannot help his offensive game.
Solano essentially is a walk-less, pop-less bat at the plate, but at least he has been decent on the field. He has the ability to play multiple positions, but it seems he is most comfortable at second base, where he has been a positive contributor both last season and in 2013. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that means he profiles better as a utility infielder with defensive flexibility, but the Marlins are miscasting him and his terrible bat as a starter on a talent-light team.
The team was also prone to miscasting him thanks to the one thing he did do well: hit with runners in scoring position. Solano may have hit a pathetic .249/.305/.316 overall, but he muscled up a .316/.379/.355 (.317 wOBA) with men in scoring position. Of course, that batting line is also not very good and particularly littered with singles, but it was what the Marlins focused on as the lone #minorvictory in a bad year for Solano.
Solano lost his job in May when he went down thanks to a strained ribcage injury. When he was eligible to return to the roster, the Marlins had already been featuring Derek Dietrich regularly at second base, and Solano was optioned to Triple-A instead. In July, he returned to the roster in backup role, but when Dietrich ran into issues with the team over the Tino Martinez incident and an injury, Solano returned to the starting lineup and stayed there full time.
The Marlins may even turn to Solano again at second base next season, as he will likely compete with Dietrich for the job in 2014. But the Marlins would be wise to turn away Solano's poor bat for more upside in their hapless middle infield situation.