What can the Padres expect from newly signed Donovan Solano?

Jul 21, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Donovan Solano (39) throws the ball to first base for an out against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres signed veteran infielder Donovan Solano to a minor league deal earlier this week. What kind of impact could he make to the 2024 Padres?

Through almost two-dozen games, it’s clear the Padres are lacking some depth on offense. Players like Matthew Batten, Brett Sullivan, Tyler Wade, Graham Pauley, and Eguy Rosario are getting plenty of playing time early this year, to mixed results.

Earlier this week, the Padres brought in a player with more plate appearances in the big leagues than all of those players listed combined.

Donovan Solano is a 10-year veteran with over 800 MLB games and 2,600 plate appearances under his belt.

So, what can the Padres expect from a 36-year-old utility infielder?

If you’re expecting a home run threat coming off the bench when Solano walks up to the plate, prepare to be disappointed. While Solano brings a lot to the table, power is not one of them. He has never hit more than seven home runs in a season. In total, has 32 career homers over his decade in the bigs.

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That doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable.

Taking a look at his 2023 peripheral numbers, he ranked in the 99th percentile for “sweet spot” rate and 89th in expected batting average. Solano makes contact often and usually, it’s quality contact.

He had something of a renaissance between flaming out of the big leagues in 2016 and returning in 2019. Since 2019, he is batting .296 with a .768 OPS and 110 OPS+. Basically, for the best five seasons, he has been average-to-slightly-above average at the plate.

The Padres desperately need another veteran bat that could provide league-average production.

As noted in the frustrating 1-0 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday, San Diego needs another player who can simply make contact in key situations. If Solano were to bat with a runner on third and less than two outs, the chances of him scoring that run via ground ball, sac fly, or base hit is fairly high.

The Columbian righty can provide depth and insurance at three infield positions as well. He has at least 400 innings of big league experience at all three of third base, second base, and first base. He bounced around each of those quite frequently in 2023 with the Minnesota Twins, with first base as his main post. He ended up being a key piece for the Twins as they won the AL Central. He was on their Wild Card and ALDS rosters.

Speaking of 2023, he had a solid year at the plate for the Twins. Over 134 games, he batted .282 with 26 doubles, a .760 OPS and 111 OPS+, totaling in 1.7 WAR. The Padres would be over the moon if they got something resembling that kind of production. They likely won’t get close to that from the bottom part of their current bench options.

Solano finds gaps in the outfield, despite rarely hitting the ball over the fence. That’s a skill all on its own.

Basically, Solano gives them a battle-tested veteran who knows how to make contact. That, along with play all around the infield. Plus, off the bench last year, he hit .276 as a pinch-hitter. He could be a great late-inning bench option in a big spot. Especially if the Padres just simply need to put the ball in play.

For now, Solano is at the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona getting something of an extended/late Spring Training. It is not known yet when Solano will join the big league squad, if he does at all. There is always the possibility that the Padres, or Solano, don’t like what they see during his ramp-up and he once again becomes a free agent.

Either way, it may be a few weeks before the Padres and Solano feel ready to throw him into a game midseason after a slow offseason.

If the Padres feel he could be an upgrade off the bench or as depth in the infield in San Diego, they shouldn’t hesitate to put him on the MLB roster. It’s a waiting game for now. If Solano looks like he did last year, this will be an underrated and much-needed signing.

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