To say the Texas Rangers weren’t very active during the July trading period isn’t entirely accurate.
They didn’t to anything on July 31, deadline day, but general manager Jon Daniels managed to pull off three trades that produced major-leaguers by the end of the season.
The first came July 13, when the Rangers traded from a spot where they had depth, the bullpen, to acquire a player who helped where there wasn’t much depth, the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Mark down this one: Pete Fairbanks to the Tampa Bay Rays for infielder Nick Solak, who is next up in the Star-Telegram’s countdown of the top 10 Rangers prospects.
No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B
Age: 24 (Jan. 11, 1995)
Weight: 190 pounds
How acquired: 2019 trade with Tampa Bay
Pro tip: If you want to make Texas Rangers fans mad, tell them that Rougned Odor will be the starting second baseman next season and Nick Solak will start the season in the minor leagues.
Pro tip II: Immediately duck for cover.
Nothing this season, and perhaps as many as the past three seasons, has irritated a Rangers fan more than seeing Odor’s name and his sub-.210 average in the lineup. And just when it looks like a suitable replacement has been found, Odor has the support of the manager and a massive contract on his side.
So where does that leave the suitable replacement, Solak?
Maybe it’s not as hopeless as it might look.
General manager Jon Daniels said late in September that Odor must be better in 2020 and that a big contract won’t dictate who will receive the lion’s share of the playing time.
Manager Chris Woodward, Odor’s staunchest ally, said in the final days of the season that things Odor did to reel in a strong September must be replicated during his off-season work and in spring training.
History says that won’t happen.
Odor has started off ice cold each of the past three seasons, and only once did he recover. That was in 2018, when he batted .253, posted a career-high .326 on-base percentage and was a 2.7 WAR thanks largely to improvements defensively.
But he batted only .203 and finished with a -0.4 WAR in 2017, and batting only .205 in 2019 and with a -0.3 WAR. He hit a combined 63 home runs in those seasons, with 30 of them coming in 2019, but managed to register an OPS of only .649 in 2017 and .721 this season.
It took a .984 OPS in September, the most difficult month to get a true evaluation of players, for Odor to get above .700.
Solak, meanwhile, finished his first taste of the majors with an .844 OPS. He hit for average (.293), reached base (.393) and hit for power (.491 slugging percentage).
He did so essentially as an everyday player bouncing between second base, third base and designated hitter.
Woodward called Solak, who retained his rookie status, the Rangers’ best player from his MLB debut Aug. 20 through mid-September. Even when Solak stumbled some in September, he still managed to hit for a higher average and reach base more often than Odor.
Solak’s success is based in his approach. He understands the strike zone and doesn’t stray from it often. If he gets a good pitch, he usually puts his A swing on it.
He saw his power numbers climb this season, though he was hardly alone in the year of the home run. He launched 27 home runs at Triple A and five more with the Rangers after hitting only 19 in 2018 in Double A.
It’s not unusual for hitters to develop power as they climb through the minor leagues.
That happened with Odor.
But what will happen with him over the next sixth months will dictate where Solak opens next season and if he can unseat Odor at second base.
Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Sherten Apostel, 3B
No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B
No. 8: Friday
No. 7: Monday
No. 6: Tuesday
No. 5: Wednesday
No. 4: Thursday
No. 3: Oct. 18
No. 2: Oct. 21
No. 1: Oct. 22