Scan the list of left-handed pitchers that the Nationals have invited to big league camp this spring and you see a wide variety of names.
You have your established starter in Gio Gonzalez. You have your veteran reliever in Jerry Blevins. You have a possible swingman in Ross Detwiler. You have a number of guys with experience at Triple-A now competing for big league jobs in Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Robertson and Danny Rosenbaum. You have a former top prospect who has dropped in many evaluators’ eyes in Matt Purke.
Perhaps the most intriguing left-hander that we’ll see this spring, however, is a guy who has yet to pitch above high Single-A Potomac but is finally healthy and possesses loads of talent. That guy is Sammy Solis.
Despite having appeared in just 33 professional games (all of which have been in the lower levels of the minors) since being a second-round pick of the Nats in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Solis enters camp this year knowing that if he pitches well, he has a chance to make an impact on the big league roster.
General manager Mike Rizzo said earlier this offseason that Solis could be an option in relief for the Nats this season, a stance based both on Solis’ talent level and the Nationals’ lack of depth when it comes to left-handed bullpen arms. It’s a method that the St. Louis Cardinals have employed in recent seasons with a handful of their top pitching prospects: Let them come up to the big leagues as relievers, get their feet wet in that role and then move into the rotation down the road.
Pitching in relief would be something new for Solis, but he’s certainly open to the idea.
“I’m willing to be shortstop if I have to,” Solis said with a smile at NatsFest. “Honestly, I think I’m finally ready to make an impact with the team. I’m just working hard, keeping my head down and letting the front office make all the decisions. ... I’m a starting pitcher, but I’ll relieve, I’ll catch, I’ll do whatever.
“It’s very exciting. My whole career it’s been stop and go, stop and go. I think now I’m finally 100 percent and I’m finally ready.”
Solis made just 14 appearances last season after returning from Tommy John surgery, but he finished the season strong at Potomac, posting a 3.43 ERA in 57 2/3 innings. He then followed that up by pitching to a stellar 2.17 ERA in seven Arizona Fall League starts, in which he struck out 29 and walked just seven in 29 innings.
“The third time was the charm for me,” Solis said of his fall league experience. “Third time out there and I had a lot of fun. I’m from Arizona so playing in front of my family and friends, it’s a real laid-back deal. They treat you like a big leaguer which is a lot of fun. Hopefully I can get a little taste of that this year.”
Solis throws a curveball which looks like a bit of a slurve because of his arm angle, and he says that his development with that pitch was the biggest positive he took out of his time on the mound last year.
“The breaking ball for me was the hardest thing to find after surgery,” Solis said. “Especially out in the fall league, I really developed it and it really came around and it was my most effective pitch. So I’m excited to see how it turns out this year.”
Because Solis still lacks experience at the higher levels of the minors, he’s unlikely to break camp with the team and will likely end up in the rotation at Double-A Harrisburg to start the season instead. But should he continue to make strides and stay healthy, and should the Nats lack a quality left-handed option behind Blevins in the bullpen later on this season, Solis could be one of the first to get the call.
The 25-year-old hasn’t pitched in relief since his freshman year at the University of San Diego, but he’s up for whatever the Nats ask of him.
“Honestly, I’m excited about (possibly pitching in relief),” he said. “It’s a little different, but at the same time, it’s exciting.”
Update: Former Rangers infielder Jeff Baker has agreed to a two-year, $3.7 million deal with the Marlins, according to multiple reports.
The Nationals had expressed interest in the right-handed hitting 32-year-old, but didn’t feel they necessarily needed his bat off the bench. Baker is a career .267/.321/.440 hitter over nine major league seasons. He is even more impressive against lefties, batting .298/.353/.522.
Also today, the Nats announced that they’ve extended an invitation to big league spring training to catcher Jeff Howell.
Howell, 30, split the 2013 season between Harrisburg and Syracuse, posting a .259/.283/.453 slash line in 43 total games.