By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres in the off-season, the hope was that Solarte would be a utility backup infielder.
But Solarte has been much more than that. With Devon Travis not playing well, and no shortstop staying healthy, a starting role has opened up for Solarte.
So far, in 2018, Solarte has played in 48 games and is hitting .270 with a .332 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage. Going beyond hitting, Solarte is currently third on the team — hitters only — with a 0.7 WAR (wins above replacement), according to Fangraphs.
Solarte is also hitting .275 with a .345 on-base percentage and has 19 RBIs with runners in scoring position. His clutch rate — per Fangraphs — is also the highest it has been in his MLB career.
The versatile infielder is also hitting the ball with authority. So far, Solarte is hitting the ball harder than ever in his MLB career, as his exit velocity is 88.5 MPH. His hard-hit rate percentage is also up to 34.6% compared to 28.3% last season, according to baseball savant. Not surprisingly, Solarte is making less soft contact in 2018, as his soft contact is down to 19% compared to 25.2% last season, according to Fangraphs.
While Solarte is making harder contact, something else he has been doing this season is hitting the ball all over the field, resulting in defences being unable to employ a shift on him.
Meanwhile, Solarte isn’t just hitting hard fly balls or hard ground balls, rather he is doing a bit of everything. His ground ball and his fly ball rates are identical at 38.6%.
One drawback of Solarte's season so far is that he's striking out 14.5% of the time, up from the 11.9% last season in San Diego, per Fangraphs.
And while Solarte has been a pleasant surprise at the plate, his defence has also been better than expected. In 165 innings — through May 25 — Solarte has yet to record an error while also having 35 assists and 32 putouts to his name. Something else Solarte has been good at in the field is turning double plays as he has helped turn eight of those this season.
What makes him an even better defender is simple: Solarte is versatile and has played innings at second, third, first and shortstop, which has really helped manager John Gibbons create his lineup with all the injuries his team has dealt with.
Putting all this together has resulted in a fantastic start to the season for Solarte with the Blue Jays. While his antics on the field help — like his dancing — his play has resulted in him being a surprise success to many fans, while also making him a fan favourite.