2019 was a very successful year mentally for Padres’ Lee Solomon

Credit: Journal Gazette

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Credit: Journal Gazette

After surviving the grind of his first full season of professional baseball, San Diego Padres’ prospect Lee Solomon is poised to continue his dream in 2020. 

There is no doubt that the minor league season is a grind. There is no better way to describe the feeling of playing 140 plus baseball games in a little over five months.

The season is long, and the travel time can be maddening on young players. San Diego Padres’ prospect Lee Solomon thought he had an idea of that grind, but he admits it took a toll on him in 2019. “It was a lot. I understand why so many people told me I would learn so much about myself that first (full) year,” said Solomon. There are so many aspects of the minor leagues that most people don’t consider.

“You have to deal with the fatigue and the bus rides. You aren’t always able to eat the best meals. Going to bed late and waking up early all the time. It was a grind. That is the perfect way to put it. There is no other way to put it,” said the prospect. He laughed while speaking about how naive he was about the subject at first when guys talked to him about it. “Mentally, it was a very successful year for me,” Solomon exclaimed.

The right-handed hitter was drafted in the 25th-round out of Lipscomb University in 2018. The school in Nashville, Tennessee, is where Solomon graduated with a law/society degree and a minor in political science. Attending the university worked well for Solomon, as he developed so much as a ballplayer under the team’s guidance. “It was the perfect decision for me (to go there). I grew so much as a person and as a player. It was because of the people I had around me,” Solomon said. “Coming in, I was a preferred walk-on. No scholarship. I was not a very good baseball player in my freshman year. I only got like four at-bats. I really just wasn’t good enough,” Solomon admitted. There was a lot of soul-searching done by this native of Ohio. He needed to really look in the mirror and figure out if the game of baseball was for him.

“I came back the next year after working on some stuff during the summer. The coach, who played in the minors for a very long time, had a talk with me. Brad Coon is his name. He was in the Angels organization for a long time. He basically told me what I was doing was not going to work. He told me that if I really wanted to play at the next level- I was going to have to make some changes,” Solomon admitted. Working behind the ball was the main goal for the hitter and his coach as he refined his approach. With a better understanding of how to go about his business more productively, the young ballplayer started to grow into his talents on the baseball field.

At Lipscomb, Solomon indirectly followed in his father’s footsteps, who has a law background. “I started in communications and ended up taking this communications/law class that swayed me to get more interested in law. Once I was in that program- I learned a lot and became fascinated with law and all the different avenues of it. That is where I ended up finding the law. Like many kids at Lipscomb, I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do, and I found the law,” Solomon explains. There is a craving from this young man to make the world a better place. You get a sense in that in talking to him. “Social justice is something that I am passionate about,” Solomon said.

This sense of fairness is what draws Solomon to the game of baseball. He spoke about his cousins, who grew up around the corner, and how they influenced him in the beginning to love the game. “They are like my older brothers. They always played, I wanted to be just like them. They made me fall in love with it,” Solomon said fondly. “As I grew up, that passion and drive (for the game) came into my own, and it wasn’t just attached to them. Now I am at a stage where I truly love this game. I love how difficult and humbling it is,” Solomon said. The game of baseball will bring you to your knees, and he is well aware of that.

Credit: TinCaps

After putting up a .968 OPS as a sophomore at Lipscomb, Solomon struggled his junior year, producing a .711 OPS in 56 games and 210 at-bats. In a critical leverage-year for collegiate baseball players, Solomon struggled mightily. “That year was the most miserable year playing baseball. My mindset was so off.” Solomon said disappointingly. He knew the magnitude of the year, and instead of having fun and doing what came natural- he pressed. It was a disappointing year for the ballplayer, but you learn far more from failure than you do from success. “I feel like I learned a lot about myself and what I need to prepare to succeed,” Solomon said. It was a gut-check for the versatile young player. The game of baseball is built on failure and how you respond to it. For Lee Solomon, he loves that aspect and challenge. The fact the game mirrors life is something he admires about the sport.

Comfort is enormous when attempting to play baseball at the highest levels of your ability. Solomon went to Arizona immediately after his selection in the 25th-round of the 2018 draft by the Padres. For the native of Ohio, the city of Phoenix provided some contentment. “Having my grandparents and family there made me feel a little more comfortable. They hadn’t seen too many of my games, so it was nice that they saw my hit some homers and play that year in Arizona,” Solomon said. That first taste of professional life came with the enjoyment of his family being near. “That is something I will always remember,” Solomon said.

His 2019 season started in Fort Wayne, where he suffered through a cold month of April, in which he hit .151 in 16 games for the TinCaps. Solomon rebounded by putting up a .813 OPS in May, showing that he could indeed produce at the Single-A level. The right-handed hitter made several friends this past season as he describes the environment in the Padres’ system as family-like. “I am really close with Jawuan Harris, Dwanya Williams-Sutton, and Grant Little. They are all good friends of mine,” Solomon said. “The Padres draft guys that root for each other. I have become such great friends with these guys who you really want to see reach their potential. We are all working together. The talent level is incredible. I have played with a lot of these guys who have climbed prospect lists, and I can see why. There is a lot of special talent everywhere,” Solomon said about his teammates.

Amazingly, Lee Solomon, who had not pitched since Little League threw three innings for the TinCaps this season. He was not prepared when his manager asked him to pitch the first time in 2019. “The funny part is it was a really cold game. I was playing second base. We were getting stomped, and A.C. (Anthony Contreras) came up to me and asked if I ever pitched before,” Solomon said. “I was like- No, man. Because I literally had only thrown like five innings in my life,” Solomon explains. The versatile player prides himself on the ability to play multiple positions, but he was surprised by Contreras’ next statement. “He was like- alright, cool. I want you to go down to the bullpen and warm up. You are going in next inning. I was like- What is this guy talking about? Did he not just hear me?” Solomon said with a laugh. “So I go out there, and that first outing was rough. I give up a homer to the first batter I see. I gave up a couple of runs, but only two were earned. My next two outings were scoreless. It is just one of those things where I take pride in being a utility man. I was helping the team out, and it is hard to say no,” Solomon explains. There is a ton of pride from this ballplayer when it comes to playing multiple positions.

Instances like this are what earned Solomon a promotion to Lake Elsinore late in the year. He was brought on to a young Storm’ team that needed a veteran-like presence as they pushed towards a playoff run. The promotion was a bit of a shock for Solomon. “It caught me by surprise. I wasn’t thinking about promotions. I was just playing every day,” Solomon explained. “AC called me into the office and told me. It was a cool thing,” Solomon admits. The play in the California League was different than the Midwest League, though Solomon would not categorize it as a massive difference. He describes the pitching as being a little bit stronger, and the overall play was a little more refined.

The right-handed hitter is not blessed with great size. By not trying to do too much while at the plate, he gets the most out of his compact swing. “I am a gap to gap hitter. My game is like that. I have the juice to hit it out, but that is not what I am thinking about,” Solomon said. He has learned to utilize his strengths in the game and not to overswing on pitches. “I like to be aggressive on fastballs. I try to manage my aggression by battling at the plate,” Solomon states. He tries to battle every at-bat and will not go down easily. “I don’t like watching the third strike,” Solomon said. 

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There is a confidence about the way he plays, so while discussing what he needs to improve upon, there was a pause from the ballplayer. “I feel like I am a well-rounded player,” Solomon exclaimed confidently. In time, after processing the question, he did have a more direct answer. “Defensively, because I try to play so many positions- I want to be smoother and more comfortable in those different spots. Defensively, I feel like there is room to improve for me — the basic nuances of the position. The little things are what I need to improve upon,” Solomon said.

Currently, the Padres have a tremendous amount of talent from around the world. The Latino community is well represented with the Padres’ farm system. We spoke about that fact and how the infielder enjoys interacting with all his teammates. “My Spanish is pretty good. I studied it all through high school and a little bit in college. I have learned a lot about different dialogues. I am enjoying learning about their culture and enjoying their passion for the game,” Solomon said.

There is an offensive upside from Solomon, who provides more than just a useful glove. He soaks up information very well and also translates the tutelage onto the field, which is positive towards his future. 2019 was a growing year for this prospect who is flying under the radar. “Offensively, I did not have the greatest year, but I feel like I did a lot of really good things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. I felt comfortable at the plate,” Solomon said. There is work to be done, but he will not shy away from the effort that is needed to achieve success. “I just want to control what I can control. I want to be a better baseball player. I want to be a better teammate. I want to be a leader in the clubhouse,” Solomon explains. “I want to do things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Do people feel comfortable coming up to me with their problems? If I hold someone accountable- are they going to think that is genuine? Those are goals for me always when I go into a new season,” Solomon stated proudly. With goals like this, there is no doubt that Lee Solomon is a leader for younger prospects to emulate within the Padres’ system.

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