Donovan Solano is coming off a solid 2022 season with a division rival, but could provide the Pittsburgh Pirates a decent player in 2023
The Pittsburgh Pirates need infield depth, especially at first base. Right now, Zack Collins is atop the team’s depth chart, and it’s far from a guarantee that he will last beyond roster finalization in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. Although first base is slim pickings among the free-agent crop, there are a few under-the-radar names to keep an eye on. One of them is Donovan Solano.
The division rival Cincinnati Reds picked up Donovan Solano on a minor league pact this past off-season. Solano was coming off a nice three-year career renaissance with the San Francisco Giants in which he batted .308/.354/.435 with a .339 wOBA and 113 wRC+. Solano was an unexpected force for San Francisco. He was just a 636 OPS, .283 wOBA, and 77 wRC+ utility infielder from 2012 to 2016 and hadn’t appeared in more than 100 games in a single season since 2014.
Although Solano didn’t perform great at the dish, he did well enough, slashing .284/.339/.385, leading to a .315 wOBA and 98 wRC+. Overall, that made him roughly league average. He didn’t hit for much power, having an ISO of .101, but he did rack up 16 doubles in just 304 plate appearances. For a guy who was picked up on a non-guaranteed deal, Solano delivered the Reds solid play.
Until this year, Solano was mainly a 2B/SS/3B infielder. But he took up first base this year for the Reds. In just 215 plate appearances, Solano flashed the leather, racking up +5 Defensive Runs Saved, +4 Outs Above Average, and a +13.9 UZR/150. He was arguably one of the best defensive first basemen in the league this year, ranking third in DRS and second in outs above average despite playing fewer than 250 innings at the position.
Solano also operated third base a handful of times this year and was the Giants’ primary second baseman during his time on the West Coast. But he hasn’t played shortstop since 2019 and has never played it nearly as much as the keystone or hot corner. But he could still sub in at the other three infield positions if need be.
Solano might not be a power-hitting first baseman, but he hits for contact, gets on base at an above-average rate, and plays an excellent first base. Plus, he brings some versatility. He wouldn’t be all that expensive, either. A one-year deal worth $3-5 million would likely get it done. For a league average batter who brings plus fielding, that’s a bargain. Although he is older, with next year being his age-35 campaign, Solano has had a nice late-career renaissance and could continue that next year.