Defense wins championships. It’s a simple saying that sports fans around the world hear quite often. Its meaning? A solid defensive core of players can put any team in contention to win a championship, even when that particular team lacks a strong offense.
Of the seven fielders that the pitcher has behind his back, one could argue that none is more important than the shortstop. Often regarded as the captain of the infield, having a shortstop with an above average glove that can also hit the ball well is something that every franchise in professional baseball would die to have.
In the case of the San Diego Padres, the team hasn’t had a player fit this description since Khalil Greene. Even then, Greene only had success in the Padre’ organization for four seasons before seemingly disappearing from the face of planet earth. While his success in San Diego did not last very long, Greene gave the Padres and their fans something they desperately wanted: a franchise shortstop.
Since then, the Padres have struggled to find a true identity at shortstop. With veterans Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar filling in recently, and not playing well to put it kindly, the Padres are desperate to find a player that can become their everyday shortstop.
There is a glimmer of hope, however. With an absolutely loaded farm system, the Padres have some shortstop prospects that are paving the way for a bright future. Let’s start with Javier Guerra. Once known as the “1-B” prospect in the Craig Kimbrel trade, Guerra has been spoken of as a disappointment since coming to the Padres. A below average hitter (.222) last season, Guerra does not project as an impact bat at the next level.
The wonderful thing about Guerra is that he may be one of the best defensive shortstops in the entire minor leagues. Scouts have raved that Guerra has a legitimate chance to be a gold glove-caliber shortstop if the Padres give him a shot. Then there’s Luis Urias, the Padres number three prospect, that currently plays second base, although a move to shortstop has constantly been discussed. It is impossible to forget Fernando Tatis Jr., the man that Padres fans often deem as our savior, as he is knocking on the door of the big leagues. One thing is for sure: help is on the way. But, until then, a very important question comes to mind: Who will be the Padres’ answer at shortstop until then?
Last offseason, A.J. Preller signed former all-star shortstop Erick Aybar to a one-year contract. Surely Aybar was not the long term answer, but more or less an innings eater until the young talent would make its way to the big leagues. Aybar struggled mightily, and before getting injured, saw playing time stolen from his bare hands by Rule 5 draft pick Allen Cordoba and minor league journeyman Dusty Coleman. While both Cordoba and Coleman had little to no impact last season, Padres manager Andy Green had something new in mind.
Coming off an injury that had him sidelined for almost three weeks, Green and the coaching staff decided to play utility man Yangervis Solarte at shortstop. Not necessarily known for playing shortstop, Padres fans were eager to know how Solarte would perform at his new position. On paper, the numbers don’t really impress you. In 199 innings played at shortstop, Solarte posted a fielding percentage of 95.6%. To give you a rough estimate, Major League Baseball’s average fielding percentage for the shortstop position is 97.3%. Being almost two percentage points below the league average surely does not seem impressive, but I think there is reason to believe that Solarte has the potential to be a solid defensive shortstop. For starters, he has a career fielding percentage of 98.5%, a respectable number for a player that is constantly moving around the infield. Solarte was also an above-average defensive second basemen and it seemed like every week we would see him making a spectacular play that would save a run or end an inning. His glove is certainly strong enough for him to hold his own as he just needs time to make adjustments and become accustomed to playing shortstop.
The biggest concern for Solarte would have to be his lack of athleticism. The thirty year old isn’t exactly the ideal build for a shortstop and I can see why this could lead people to believe that he may not have the range to be able to play there. What he lacks in athleticism, Solarte makes up for with his quickness. He reads the ball off the bat very well and has fast hands that allow him to get rid of the ball quickly, allowing him to be able to turn double plays well. This quickness was a big part of Solarte having success at second base last year. People characterize Solarte as a player without a strong arm, but often forget that he used to spend the majority of his time playing third base, where at one point he was an above-average defensive player at that position as well.
Do I think that Yangervis Solarte has the ability to play shortstop? Yes, I do. However, a sudden change like this requires time and adjustments. Solarte is going to be forced to work hard in order to have success, something that I firmly believe he has no problem with. Is he the future at shortstop? Certainly not. But if the Padres are not able to bring in a quality shortstop this offseason, playing Yangervis Solarte there might not be such a bad idea.