Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top Yankee hitter so far is 26 year old Yangervis Solarte from Venezuela and he's fighting for a roster spot-NY Times

3/12/14, "Top Yankee Hitter So Far? He’s Fighting for a Job," NY Times, Peter Kerasotis, Tampa, Fla.

Darkness blanketed the stadium as the ballplayer arrived at 6:30 a.m. He is usually the first Yankee in the clubhouse, where his locker sits across the aisle from Derek Jeter, maybe five feet away. It might as well be five light-years.

Among the crowded cluster of names competing for a Yankees infield job, Yangervis Solarte is not one who jumps out.

But the numbers he has produced this spring have.

After hitting a single and working a walk in his two at-bats Wednesday, Solarte continues to have the Yankees’ highest batting average (.632), the highest slugging percentage (.947) and the highest on-base percentage (.682). He has the most runs scored (7) and most hits (12) and is tied for most total bases (18). He also has two home runs, one behind the team leader Francisco Cervelli, who has three after homering twice against Detroit in a 10-inning game that ended in a 7-7 tie.

Solarte’s numbers are real, but they are on a March 12 statistics sheet. A lot of spring training remains, with a lot more jockeying to be done to see who plays second and third base, and who will be Jeter’s primary backup at shortstop.

But these are the types of gifts that unwrap themselves on sunny March days, when someone who is a household name only in his own house suddenly commands the spotlight. Whether Solarte continues to do so is a question waiting for an answer. So far, he has put up the right numbers at the right time, and for the right team.

“He’s played well,” said Manager Joe Girardi, who still has not named a starting second or third baseman. “All our utility guys have played really, really well. But Solarte gives you a lot of options because he’s a switch-hitter and he can play anywhere in the infield. He can play left field.”

It is a big reason the Yankees pursued Solarte, a 26-year-old Venezuelan, when he became an off-season minor league free agent.

“They were the first team to contact me,” he said through an interpreter, adding that 12 other organizations expressed interest. “The Yankees were very insistent. They were in constant communication. They showed that they wanted me.”

Before Wednesday’s game, Solarte was surprised to learn that he was not just statistically ahead of the other Yankees’ hitters, but way ahead. “I didn’t know,” he said. “But I really don’t want to know. I don’t want anything to change my approach.”

The same goes with getting feedback from Girardi. Solarte said he had not gotten any, and does not want any. “Positive or negative, it’s better for me not to know,” he said. “I don’t want it to affect my preparation, dictate the way I train. I just want to keep working hard.”

So he does, arriving early, practicing, training, spending extra time in the batting cages beneath Steinbrenner Field, looking for any way to finally make it to the major leagues.

As a switch-hitter who occasionally displays power from both sides of the plate, Solarte has played professionally since 2006, in both the Minnesota Twins’ and Texas Rangers’ organizations. He said the Rangers told him last season he was going to get a late-season call-up, but the call never came.

“I don’t want to play in the minors anymore,” he said.

He played his past two years in the Pacific Coast League, for the Class AAA Round Rock (Texas) Express, batting .288 with 11 homers in 2012, and .276 with 12 homers last season. His error tally has been high, though — 16 two years ago and 12 last year.

So when he arrives in the early morning hours at Steinbrenner Field, defense is a special area of work, and this spring, he has played second, third, shortstop and outfield.

His work ethic recently caught the attention of Carlos Beltran, who has provided a bit of mentoring. Beltran now gives Solarte the same advice that Solarte’s uncle, the former Met Roger Cedeño, gives him: Continue to work hard.

He’s a good, talented player, you can see it,” Beltran said. “To me, he’s a true switch-hitter, a guy who can do some damage from both sides of the plate. I think he has the tools to play at this level, and you can see him fighting for the opportunity. He comes early, goes to the weight room, works hard, and that’s good. I tell him to keep doing that, keep letting everyone know that you want to be here, that you want to work, that you have a good attitude. At the end of the day, that’s so important. He listens.”


Joe Girardi finally got to test baseball’s new challenge rule, asking for a replay review on a bang-bang play at first base in the seventh inning. The replay showed that Brian Roberts was clearly out, and Girardi admitted that had the same groundout occurred during the regular season, he probably would not have challenged it. ... Hiroki Kuroda had a rough outing, surrendering 10 hits in three and two-thirds innings, giving up six earned runs. “He was off with off-speed pitches, which is really not that unusual this time of year,” Girardi said. “That’s what pitchers are trying to find. They’re trying to find a feel. His off-speed stuff wasn’t that sharp, and that’s why he got hit.” ... A Yankees split-squad team will leave for Panama for two games against Miami after Thursday’s game against Baltimore. The Yankees also have a split-squad team playing against Philadelphia on Thursday in Clearwater, Fla." image Barton Silverman, NY Times

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