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Donovan Solano demands your attention

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The once-anonymous backup infielder has been hard to ignore.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

I used to work at this mediocre California restaurant in Chicago. Turnover in food and bev is already pretty high, but this was an especially lousy place to work, so people came and went before you could even learn their names. It got to a point where I didn’t bother introducing myself to new hires unless they stuck around for a few weeks.

It didn’t feel so dissimilar from the early parts of the 2019 Giants season. Connor Joe and Michael Reed were on the Opening Day roster but were designated for assignment before they could collect their first paycheck. Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra barely made it a month. Aaron Altherr got exactly one plate appearance before getting kicked to the curb. When someone new showed up, there was no guarantee they would make it through the week.

Then there was Donovan Solano. Solano didn’t arrive with much fanfare. He wasn’t a hot prospect destroying the Pacific Coast League; he was a 31-year-old utility infielder who hadn’t appeared in a big-league game since 2016. Before suiting up in a Giants uniform, Solano had a .257/.306/.331 in 1100 plate appearances spread across parts of five seasons. His best year was back in 2012 when had a .717 OPS. I’ll be honest. I didn’t think he would last through May, so I paid him about as much attention as one of the new hires.

But on July 18, Solano is hitting .337/.368/.469 for a 120 wRC+. Among Giants with at least 100 plate appearances, his .837 OPS ranks second. Solano has demanded attention for a while now, but his performance on Wednesday was eye-opening. In the sweep of the Rockies, Solano hit a 443-foot homer. Even if Coors made that ball travel farther, that’s still impressive from the backup shortstop.

Solano probably isn’t the second-best hitter on the team. A .383 BABIP is rather unsustainable. But it’s not as if Solano has been getting away with just dinks and doinks. His expected wOBA of .384 suggest he’s even been a bit unlucky. He’s hit nearly 40 percent line drives which is absolutely bazonkers. (An elite line drive rate is 30 percent.) There are 371 players with at least 100 plate appearances in 2019. Solano’s line drive rate tops them all.

The bar for a utility infielder is pretty low. As long as a team doesn’t feel like it’s throwing away an at-bat when he steps into the box and he’s not a complete clankmitt in the field, he’s probably fine. The Giants have had trouble finding suitable backup infielders in the last few years. The bench has been such a wasteland that there’s been at least one instance where Madison Bumgarner got a pinch-hit appearance before an actual position player. That’s not going to happen if Solano is waiting in the wings.

Solano has been so good that he should be getting more starts. With Evan Longoria on the injured list, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of Solano at third base. Right now, more of Solano can only be a good thing.