The Texas Rangers acquired Nick Solak, whose scouting report is all about his makeup and hit tool, in a deal that sent Peter Fairbanks to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier today. Its the type of prospect-for-prospect deal that appears to make a lot of sense pragmatically, and would be bandied about in chats or message boards, but seems to rarely actually occur in the real world. And its the type of deal that would seem to require two rather aggressive front offices that aren’t gunshy about making moves — Texas and Tampa would seem to qualify there.
Solak is a 24 year old righthanded hitter and thrower who is listed at 5’11”, 190 lbs. He was a second round pick of the New York Yankees in the 2016 draft, and was sent to Tampa Bay in February, 2018, in a three-team trade that saw Taylor Widener go from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks, Steven Souza go from the Rays to the Diamondbacks, Brandon Drury go from the Diamondbacks to the Yankees, and Anthony Banda and two players to be named later (Colin Poche and Sam McWilliams) go from Arizona to Tampa.
Solak put up a .282/.384/.450 slash line in 565 plate appearances for Montgomery in the AA Southern League in 2018, playing mostly left field and second base, with some center field mixed in. He has a .266/.353/.485 slash line for Durham in the AAA International League in 349 plate appearances, playing mostly second base and left field. It is worth noting that the International League is using the major league ball this year, so offensive numbers have spiked there, but the IL is much, much less hitter-friendly than the Pacific Coast League, where Nashville plays.
Fangraphs had Solak at #93 on their top 100 list coming into the season, and ranked #9 in a strong, deep Tampa Bay farm system before the season. Here’s the beginning of their write-up on Solak:
Solak was a college teammate of Brendan McKay’s at Louisville, and they’ve both drawn some of the most vociferous makeup raves from scouts of any of the players in the minors. There’s a story going around scouting circles that Solak actually broke one club’s makeup algorithm, scoring higher than they thought was possible.
Fangraphs said that Solak can play pretty much anywhere on the field, and presciently notes “there’s likely a trade coming at some point to clear out” some of their upper level infielders.
MLB Pipeline had Solak at #12 on their prospect rankings for the Rays before the season, giving him a 50 overall grade for future value (as did Fangraphs), and praising his approach at the plate, line drive hitting ability, and his speed.
Baseball America had Solak at #13 on their prospect rankings for the Rays before the season, praising his “competitive at bats” and saying he’s going to hit, but questioning where he will play. Solak was #18 in the Southern League top 20 list at the end of last year.
On the other hand, Baseball Prospectus didn’t have him in their prospect rankings for the Rays, nor did Keith Law. In a chat just two weeks ago, Keith Law said he would “bet the under” on Solak becoming a major league regular.
You see things like “gritty” and “grinder” come up when people are writing about Solak, and everyone seems to love the makeup and like the hit tool and approach. The questions seem to be about how much power he has, and where he will end up defensively. Its worth noting that, just a month ago, the Rangers used their top two draft picks on Josh Jung and Davis Wendzel, a couple of guys who, like Solak, are college infielders who grade out very well on makeup, hit tool and approach, but who had questions about their power and where they end up defensively. Eli White, acquired from Oakland in the Jurickson Profar trade, also has as his big selling points his hit tool and approach.
One has to wonder if the Rangers are underselling how significant a change they have made in the last 9 months in what they are looking for in their prospects and draftees, and how much of that is due to the new manager, hitting coaches and assistant general manager. Its a pretty dramatic shift from the emphasis on loud tools — particularly foot speed, bat speed and power — that they’ve had in the past.
Solak also joins White as someone who doesn’t have a clear position, but who can seemingly handle (if not be particularly good at) a number of spots. If Law is right, and he’s not an every day guy, he could still potentially have value in the sort of role that Danny Santana has had for Texas this year, playing on a fairly regular (if not every day) basis at a number of positions. I’m also curious if the Rangers, who don’t have an obvious solution for third base for 2019, take a look at him at the hot corner while he’s at Nashville.
Meanwhile, the departure of Fairbanks feels abrupt — he only really burst on the scene three months ago. But as we have discussed before, one area where the Rangers seem to have a surplus is with hard-throwing righthanded relief guys. Fairbanks may be gone, but Emmanuel Clase, Joe Barlow, and Demarcus Evans are still here, Jonathan Hernandez may be moving to the bullpen soon, and there are guys like Cole Uvila and Jesus Linarez and Dylan Bice who could be on the map in a year or two, guys who are big and throw really hard and could be major league bullpen pieces. Being able to convert Fairbanks, a two-time Tommy John surgery guy who wasn’t even on anyone’s prospect map a year ago, into a near-major-league ready position player who at least one service thinks is a top 100 guy, is a coup.