WASHINGTON — Nobody will blame you if you’d forgotten all about Jhonatan Solano.
The 31-year-old catcher has been in baseball for a decade, and he’s managed all of 108 plate appearances split over three seasons with the Nationals and the Miami Marlins in that time. He last played for the Nationals in 2013, when he had 7 hits and 7 strikeouts in 48 at-bats. He later signed with the Marlins, picking up just a single hit in 20 at-bats in 2015 before ending up with Washington again in December 2015.
Now with the Nationals at Spring Training, Solano has quietly gotten off to a ridiculous start. In 12 at-bats over six games, the veteran catcher has cranked 10 hits, including three doubles and a triple, while driving in four runs and scoring two of his own. His line of .833/.846/1.250 is hard to believe, and he leads all of Spring Training in hits — the next player with 12 or fewer at-bats on the total hits list is Freddie Freeman, with seven.
Solano has a .184/.222/.301 line in his major league career, and at his age it’s unlikely he’ll be worth much going forward. It also doesn’t help his cause that the Nationals already have a glut of catchers in the big leagues. But it offers some hope that maybe something has clicked for him, and he could get a look if Washington moves one or two of its catchers at the major-league level and needs some help in a pinch late in the season.
Solano isn’t the only one making waves early on in Nationals exhibitions.
Wilmer Difo, who has been in the Nationals organization since 2010, is working to remind everybody of his potential. In 13 at-bats spread over 6 games, the second baseman has 5 hits, 5 runs, 1 triple, 1 stolen base, 2 walks and 2 strikeouts, good for a line of .385/.467/.538. His team-leading five runs are reminiscent of his time with the big-league team last season, when he scored 14 runs on 16 hits.
Difo put up a .276/.364/.379 line in 66 plate appearances over 31 games with the Nationals in 2016, and he could see significant time this season as a utility infielder. He made appearances at second base, shortstop and third base last year.
Michael Taylor is something of a forgotten man these days. Despite his significant potential, he simply strikes out far too often to be a reliable piece in the majors. If he can cut down on his whiffs — he has an incredible 252 strikeouts in 732 at-bats over three seasons at the MLB level — he could become an everyday outfielder with ease. His power is remarkable considering his slender frame, and he’s got excellent speed.
So far in Spring Training, Taylor has done exactly that. He’s continued to put up his ridiculous numbers, but he’s managed to make frequent contact this spring. In 13 at-bats over 6 games, Taylor has 6 hits, 4 runs, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 2 stolen bases and just 1 strikeout, good for a .462/.462/.923 line. He’s among the organization’s top three players in hits, runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases in the limited sample size, and he’s actually putting the ball in play just about every time he steps up to the plate, which is by far the most important takeaway.
Moving to the other side of things, right-handed pitcher Erick Fedde is getting his first taste of major-league competition. Though he’s only made two appearances so far with the Nats, Fedde has wowed, with 4 strikeouts, 2 hits allowed and 1 (unearned) run allowed over 4.0 innings. The sample is, of course, tiny. But it’s reassuring that the organization’s top pitching prospect didn’t stumble in his major-league debut, especially considering the thinning of the farm system over the winter.
It is certainly possible any or all of the above four players could spend time with the major-league team at some point in the 2017 season. Taylor and Difo are more likely than not to at least make some appearances with the Nationals, and they could become mainstays on the big-league roster. Fedde is likely still a year away, but if the Nationals endure some injuries to their pitching staff, Fedde could hear his name called.
Solano is unlikely to make a major-league appearance this season, if for no other reason than Washington already employing Matt Wieters, Derek Norris, Pedro Severino and Jose Lobaton, but chances are high that one of those four won’t be within the organization come Opening Day. Then all it takes is an injury or two and Solano could earn a call-up.
Considering the aforementioned lack of high end minor-league prospects, thanks to the trade for Adam Eaton, Washington needs all the production it can get from fringe major-leaguers. It’s early, but this is a good start.