One of the best rookies in baseball this year is New York Yankees infielder Yangervis Solarte, currently hitting .309/.386/.474 with five homers, 20 walks, and just 19 strikeouts in 152 at-bats. Age 26, the Venezuelan was on nobody's prospect list pre-season: 26-year-olds usually aren't. Yet here he is, hitting the snot out of the ball (wRC+137) while playing decent defense at third base. He's up to 1.3 WAR, which by that measure makes him the second most productive position player on the team this year, behind only Brett Gardner at 1.7 WAR.
Alright, so who is this guy?
Solarte was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins out of Venezuela back in 2005. His career was slowed by frequent injuries and he didn't see an actual full season of playing time until 2011. Interestingly, he had a great year hitting .329/.367/.466 for Double-A New Britain. He didn't get a lot of attention for it, but I had some sources that were high on him as a sleeper and the numbers were good. I wrote this in my 2012 book:
The Twins signed Yangervis Solarte out of Venezuela back in 2005. His minor league career has been punctuated by frequent injuries and shifts of defensive position, but he set a career-high in games last year and had a fine season in Double- A, earning nice comments from team officials. Solarte is a switch-hitter with a line drive stroke. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but at the same time his strikeout rate is also quite low, a good marker for the future. He posted a solid +15 percent OPS last year, but his SEC was very low at .191, meaning that most of his offensive value comes from his batting average. That’s fine if he’s hitting .300+, but if his batting average drops much below that, the lack of walks, power, or steals makes him more of a drag than a help. Solarte played mostly second base last year with adequate results, but also has experience at third base, left field, and right field. He’s not going to win awards for his fielding, but versatility is an asset. I think he could be useful on the bench. Grade C.
The Twins didn't seem to have a slot for him and he signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent. He had decent Triple-A campaigns in 2012 (.288/.340/.405) and 2013 (.276/.323/.403) and was back on the free agent market for 2014. He signed with the Yankees obviously, who had noticed him due to positive scouting reports and statistical analytics.
Solarte is a 5-11, 195 pound switch-hitter, born July 7, 1987. His physical tools have never particularly stood out: there is always someone faster or stronger on the field, and it was easy for him to get lost in the shuffle. Yet here he is. He's always shown a good knack for contact hitting, and the development of more power with maturity has boosted his productivity, easing the 2012 concerns that all of his value would be tied into keeping a high batting average. The fact that he's maintained an excellent BB/K/PA ratio in the majors is a nice marker, too.
I don't think he is a long-term answer at third base, but I don't see any reason why he can't be a useful and versatile bench asset. I don't think he's really a .300 hitter in other words, not in a full season, but can he hit .270 with enough doubles and OBP ability to be useful? I think so.