Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Giants’ Duo Proving It’s Never Too Late to Blossom

By Steve Brenna

When it comes to journeymen in professional sports, it's hard to argue there is any more grueling journey than that of a career minor-league baseball player. With the most extensive farm system in all of pro sports, ballplayers can wander for years from small town to small town, riding buses around America's backwoods for a mere fraction of a big leaguer's salary, hanging on in hopes of one day making The Show.

Many simply never do, as their professional careers slowly fade away. Without the massive income produced by even a few seasons in the bigs to fall back on, most accept the reality of getting a "real job" for life after baseball.

This reality check could have become the fate of San Francisco Giants teammates Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano, who both experienced breakout seasons with the Giants in 2019. Solano had all of 117 plate appearances over 64 major league games in the previous four seasons. He had over a thousand big league at-bats under his belt, but at age 31, having spent the entire previous two seasons in the minors, his chances of getting back to the majors were dwindling.

Yastrzemski, a 2013 14th-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles, had never appeared in the majors, having spent six seasons in the O's farm system. At age 27, the clock was ticking for the grandson of the Red Sox legend. Combined, Solano and Yaz had over 7,000 minor league plate appearances heading in to the 2019 season.

Both began the year in Triple-A Sacramento, both were called up to the major league club in May, and neither have looked back ever since. Solano and Yaz became bright spots on a rebuilding Giants team that was 22-34 on June 1st, but overachieved to the tune of a 33-19 record in June and July before falling back to earth in the season's final two months. Yastrzemski was particularly impressive, taking over a starting role and clubbing 21 homers over 107 games, providing much needed thump for a punch less Giants offense.

Solano, meanwhile, became a key player off the bench, playing multiple infield positions and finishing the season with a .330 average and a strong .815 OPS.

Now key pieces of a still-rebuilding San Francisco club with low expectations, the duo have taken it to the next level thus far in 2020. The pair are two of the hottest players in baseball in the first month of the pandemic-shortened season, and are among the big league leaders in several categories.

Solano entered Monday's action with a 14-game hitting streak and .455/.475/.636 slash line, trailing only the scalding-hot Charlie Blackmon in average, on-base percentage, and hits. His 1.111 OPS was the fifth-highest in baseball, just behind Yaz and his 1.113 OPS. All told, the pair have combined for 5 HR, 26 RBI, 14 doubles, and 22 runs scored. Yastrzemski leads the Giants in home runs and RBI, and heading into Monday's action his 14 walks were tied for the National League lead.

How long the pair can ride the hot streak remains to be seen, but they have been crucial to a Giants offense that has received little to no contribution from old-guard vets like Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval. And while this Giants club is not built to compete with the top teams in the NL, late-bloomer success stories like Solano and Yastrzemski can give the San Francisco faithful something to root for.

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