It was announced a few days ago that Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno, who could play key roles in the bullpen, will start the season with Yankees for the first time, and it was announced yesterday that the Yankees have decided to award Yangervis Solarte with the second back-up infield position (Dean Anna is the other) instead of Eduardo Nunez. It is somewhat surprising that Nunez was not chosen, but after being thought of as the successor to Derek Jeter a few years ago, he is obviously not thought of highly in the organization.
Brendan Ryan would have had one of those spots as Derek Jeter’s backup, but he is on the disabled list with a pinched nerve in his back/neck. He will not be ready until the middle of April at the earliest since he will likely have to go down to extended spring training once he is ready for games.
Solarte previously played six years in the Minnesota Twins’ organization and then spent the last two seasons with Texas Rangers where he hit .282 in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A).The 26-year-old from Venezuela has never played a major league game, but offers versatility, having the ability to play second, shortstop, third and outfield. This is important because he is someone who can easily step in for Brian Roberts or Kelly Johnson in case they get injured.
Nunez, who has been sent to Triple-A Scranton since he still had an option, is obviously more established offensively at the major league level, but he has not shown enough consistency while at times being very unreliable defensively. Nunez hit .292 in 38 games in 2012, but in 2013, when the Yankees were counting on him to be the everyday shortstop after Jeter’s injury, he was injured and only hit .260 in 90 games. Since Nunez has some power and speed but not enough overall talent to help the team more often than not, especially as he often made inexcusable miscues at second, short and third, it makes sense to move on from him, at least at the start of the season.
Based on the injury histories of the current players on the team, the Yankees can’t have a backup infielder who can’t be trusted on defense or who doesn’t have much versatility. Solarte would be able to play outfield if Jacoby Ellsbury needs a day off or if the calf injury he had in Florida reoccurs. Hopefully Ellsbury does not have the bad luck injures that he has had in the past. Another benefit of having Solarte on the roster is that he can be counted on since he has played in at least 130 games in each of the last two seasons.
During spring training Solarte hit better than he has hit in previous years in the minors. In the Grapefruit League his stats were an unbelievable .429 average, two homers and nine RBI. It is not likely that this will continue in the regular season, since those stats can be a mirage, but it does prove that he has potential. Last season he made eight errors in 88 games at third base, two in 20 games at third and two in 20 games at shortstop.
Hopefully the Yankees will not need Solarte to play significantly but it is worth seeing if he can help the team given an opportunity. It is risky that the two backup infielders to start the season have no major league experience, but Ryan should be healthy in a few weeks and Nunez can always be called up if one of the two don’t work out. Betances, who went to high school in Brooklyn, will also be making the team out of spring training for the first time, but he appears much more ready to make an immediate impact.