The Nationals’ 2010 second-round draft pick (51st overall) pick, lefty Sammy Solis has done a nice job of pitching his way through Washington’s system during his first full season playing professionally. After an impressive showing against older, more advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League, Solis pitched well during his stint with the South Atlantic League’s Hagerstown Suns to begin this season– striking out forty batters in forty innings while allowing just fifty-one baserunners. He earned a promotion to the Potomac Nationals to begin the summer, and he’s led his club into the Carolina League postseason– pitching his way to a 6-2 record and a 2.72 ERA.
Solis’ amateur career has filled his trophy case with numerous accolades. Named a pre-season All-American going into his senior season, Solis totaled 25-8 record during his Agua Fria high school career and his 358 strikeouts are second-most in Arizona 4A history. Named second-team All-State as a sophomore, Solis took home first-team honors as a senior with an immense performance. A week prior to participating in the ’06 Area Code Games (in California), Solis was busy leading his team to victory in the Connie Mack World Series. The young pitcher struck out twelve batters in Game 2, tossed a four-hit shutout in the championship and posted a 3-0 record overall.
Drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks (18th round) and aggressively recruited by Notre Dame, Arizona State and Oregon State, Solis decided to attend the University of San Diego due to his catholic background and the school’s strong baseball program. The son of a Notre Dame pitcher, Solis began his college career nicely with a WCC regular-season championship and a spot on the All-WCC Freshman team. After back surgery wiped out his sophomore season, Solis went 9-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 92 innings pitched for a juggernaut Toreros team. Helping USD set a WCC all-time best 19-2 conference (W/L) record, Solis would be unanimously voted on to the WCC All-First Team before headlining a talented group of 10 WCC players selected in the 2010 MLB Amateur June Draft.
An owner of a polished three-pitch arsenal, Solis’ best offering is his plus changeup. Like his two-seamer, his changeup has heavy running break away from right-handed batters. Varying his grip and finger pressure between a true circle (‘a-okay’) and an off-center three-finger positioning, Solis adds and subtracts movement and velocity on his changeup and he’s developed a very strong feel for the pitch. Sitting in the 78-83 mph range-generally 80-82 mph- Solis spots his change on the low-and-away quadrants of the strikezone and does a nice job of generating both whiffs and weak contact. His delivery helps him hide the ball and his unconventional low-3/4 arm-action adds deception. After issues with occasioanlly broadcasting his offspeed stuff posed a minor set-back heading into his pro career, Solis now disguises his changeup with a near-identical arm-speed and release to that of his fastball. Already a an above-average pitch, with a couple more seasons of coaching and experience, Solis’s change could develop into a consistent top-shelf offering.
Though he does throw-across his body and his low three-quarters, slinging arm action isn’t fundamentally ideal, Solis is blessed with advanced control over his arsenal. He commands his fastball to all four quadrants of the strikezone, works quickly when he finds his groove and throws strikes consistently. He has a veteran feel for pitching– able to throw quality strikes with both his fastball and offspeed pitches. Now he’s worked with his coaches and has done a better job of improving his mechanics and balance, his control has jumped from solid-average to plus and he flashes the rare ability to throw three above-average pitches for quality strikes– from the left side.
Now that he’s added some muscle to his frame and he’s strengthened his trunk, Solis’ delivery and mechanics have seen a marked improvement while his fastball velocity has increased 2-3 mph since his senior year at USD. He repeats his mechanics well and does a nice job maintaing balance throughout his delivery– finishing with his shoulders level and his nose in-line with his belt buckle. While he throws with a very different arm-action and slot, his wind-up resembles that of a early 2000′s Roger Clemens– from the left side however– and he stays quiet and has little trouble finding and focusing on his target. He’s fluid and loose an he generates nice arm speed on the back side and he gets nice extension with fairly simply, free and easy mechanics. Despite posting some slow-as-molasses 7.9 60 yard dash times in high school, he’s a decent athlete and he controls his 6’5″ 230 pound frame and stays compact in his delivery.
Solis pounds the strikezone with an above-average 89-93 mph fastball and does a great job of attacking right-handed hitters in-on-the-hands to set up his plus changeup. Though he won’t run his velocity up beyond 93 mph too often, he generates consistent 90-92 mph heat and commands his fastball to all parts of the zone. Though he primarily employs a four-seam grip, his low arm slot and slinging arm-action adds heavy two-seam riding action and sink to his fastball. His delivery hides the ball and produces sharp angles toward either batter’s box. He’s adept at cutting and running his heater on batters hands and frustrating pull-hitters. Though he generates plenty of groundballs, his easy mechanics add explosive life to his fastball and he can overpower advanced hitters.
Reminiscent of the Oakland Athletics’ Mark Mulder, Solis’ is a big-bodied lefty with a workhorse profile. Like Mulder, he generates easy velocity and two-seam fastball movement without sacrificing command. He maintains his fastball velocity deep into his starts and his efficient approach and impressive poise with runners on base allows him to keep his pitch counts in check. He’s quick to the plate, pitches well out of the stretch and is working to improve his pick-off move, and his groundball tendencies help him pitch through tough innings.
Solis’ primary breaking ball is a knuckle-curve with tight, short break coming in between the mid 70′s and low 80′s. He’s become less reliant on his changeup in favor of developing his breaking ball during his first full professional season. As a result, he’s honed his feel for the pitch. He’s effective at using it as a chase-pitch against righties but he’s also showing more comfort throwing it for strikes and ahead in the count. He does a nice job of disguising his breaking ball, throwing it out of a similar tunnel to that of his fastball.
Though his body-type and frame is nearly ideal for a mid-rotation, workhorse lefty, Solis’ recent back injury poses a notable threat to his durability. In the beginning of his sophomore season at USD, Solis herniated a disc in his spine while lifting weights. While he did avoid invasive surgery, he spent months rehabbing his back and getting in shape at “Athlete’s Performance” in Arizona. Though it is a relief that the injury isn’t a result of any mechanical issues, disc injuries are serious obstacles for modern big league pitchers to overcome. According to orthopedists David Roberts (MD) and Gilbert Roc (MD) in their paper “Outcomes of Cervical and Lumbar Disc Herniations in Major League Baseball PItchers,” herniated discs– whether or not they’re treated surgically– almost certainly reduce pitching performance and career length. Though his performance helps to quiet injury worries, Solis’ stock doesn’t come without considerable risk.
Because he’s a rhythm pitcher, and one who’s found so much success with the typical command/control-change-speeds crafty lefthander approach, Solis’ not only lacks a consistent breaking ball, but he also fails to show the aggressive, competitive demeanor typical of top-shelf MLB arms. He’s a smart, polished pitcher with great make-up, but he lacks a killer instinct. When he’s in his groove, his presence looks big on the mound and opposing batters look outgunned and exhausted, but far too often Solis gets knocked around for too many hits– even when he brings his best repertoire. Similar to the Yankees Phil Hughes, in spite of his impressive command, above-average fastball and plus changeup, Solis allows too much contact when ahead in the count. Instead of putting hitters away with a fastball up-and-in or embarrassing them with a strikeout-changeup, he’ll tend to nibble at the corners of the zone–allowing too many good looks for the opposing batter.
Though his breaking ball is flashing plenty of potential now that he’s using it more regularly, it’s still short of rating as a consistent above-average offering. He’ll lose the pitches’ tightly wound break and hang it with a slurvy, tumbling action. If he wants to take his game beyond the next Joe Saunders/John Lannan-type lefty, he’ll need to improve his breaking stuff and will need to use his curve and changeup more aggressively.
Armed with an above-average, lively fastball, a plus changeup and advanced command, Solis has the makings of a valuable mid-rotation starter. He has few weaknesses and his intelligent approach and veteran feel for pitching will allow him to succeed against big league competition. He pitches well with men on base, does a nice job of inducing ground-ball doubleplays and his pickoff move is developing in to a weapon. His build, repertoire, command and approach make him a potential Mark Mulder-type rotation rock for the Nationals. If he doesn’t develop his breaking stuff and he falls short of his ceiling, he should still be a reliable Joe Saunders/Clayton Richard starter.