FSL notes: Tampa's Solak hard to ignore

Yankees second-rounder put together a June to remember

A second-round pick in 2016, Nick Solak batted .392 with an 1.048 OPS last month for Tampa. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | July 4, 2017 10:00 AM ET

It didn't draw much attention that Nick Solak wasn't included when Florida State League All-Star rosters were announced at the beginning of June. The Tampa second baseman's omission was no longer easily overlooked, though, by the time the game was played.

Then, as calendar turned to July, Solak's absence from the June 17 showcase looked in hindsight like a significant snub. How could the second-round choice by the Yankees in the 2016 Draft not even be picked as a reserve?

Solak may not be a flashy player with eye-catching tools, but he had a June that was hard to ignore.

The former University of Louisville standout batted .392, lifting his average from .274 to .312, and had a 1.048 OPS thanks to an on-base percentage of .453 and slugging mark of .595 during the month. Along the way, the New York Yankees' No. 18 prospect helped carry Tampa to the first-half title in the North Division.

Solak was 4-for-5 with four runs scored and three RBIs in the clincher as the Yankees edged Clearwater by winning their final seven games.

"It was awesome," Solak said. "We didn't start of the way we wanted to individually or a team, but it all came together and we ended up right where we wanted to be."

Video: Solak cracks two-run shot for Tampa

Solak's final college season as a junior a year ago didn't go as he had hoped, with a broken right hand caused by an errant pitch costing him a month and Louisville then being swept in the NCAA Super Regional.

But other than a 1-for-17 start to this season, there have been few bumps in the road since the right-handed hitter signed with the Yankees for a slightly under-slot $950,000 as the 62nd overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

"I was excited to be picked by such a storied franchise with a tradition of winning," said Solak, who finished with a .376 average for Louisville after batting .455 in 22 games before the injury.

The product of the Chicago suburbs hit .321 with a .412 on-base percentage in the short-season New York-Penn League for Staten Island last season and skipped the Class A South Atlantic League to go directly to Class A Advanced this year.

At Tampa, the 22-year-old gets to play for former Major League infielder and coach Jay Bell, and that makes for a perfect pairing.

"He offers a wealth of knowledge," said Solak, who didn't play second base until his final season at Louisville. "As the manager he works with everybody, of course, but he puts in extra time with the middle infielders.

"He's passionate about sharing his experiences, and he's been at the highest level and played in the biggest games under the most pressure. He knows exactly what it takes."

Bell's message to Solak and all his players is that you have to slow things down despite trying to move up the Minor League ladder as quickly as you can.

"That's something that Jay talks about all the time," Solak said. "You have to slow down the game. At the plate, I'm trying to improve my pace. In the field, I'm trying to smooth things out a little bit and be a little more fluid.

"Whether it is in how to prepare or things during a game, Jay's helped me a lot. It has really been a great opportunity playing for him."

Bell, for his part, wouldn't mind having more players like Solak.

"I'd take nine of him every night," the manager said. "He's just someone who loves playing the game."

Solak isn't a burner, but he was 8-for-8 in steal attempts last year and was 6-for-7 in June this year. He doesn't possess an abundance of power, either, but he has five homers this season in a pitcher-friendly league and occasionally serves as the cleanup hitter for Tampa.

"He's a baseballer," Bell said.

Someday, Solak wants that to be Major League baseballer.

"The last year has flown by," Solak said of the 12 months since his signing. "It feels like it has gone really fast. But I've learned a lot in a short time. Every day is a new day to try to get better. As you move up, the competition gets tougher and you have to get better, too. I think I have."

In brief

Tebow time: Tim Tebow got off to an encouraging start after his promotion by the Mets to St. Lucie and, as expected, the former Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida supplied a big attendance boost for the usually low-drawing Florida State League. The 29-year-old outfield hopeful was 6-for-14 with three walks, a homer and two RBIs in his first six games after hitting .220 with Columbia of the South Atlantic League. Tebow attracted home crowds of 2,315 and 3,402 in St. Lucie, then helped draw 6,315 and 4,015 at Fort Myers during a rainy first week in which a pair of rainouts necessitated doubleheaders.

New leadership: Rocket Wheeler took over as Florida manager after the Fire Frogs went a league-worst 25-41 in the first half under Paul Runge. Wheeler was the Florida State League's Manager of the Year in 1999 at Dunedin before leaving the Blue Jays organization and joining the Atlanta system. He managed in the Carolina League the past six seasons before the Braves moved their Class A Advanced affiliation to the FSL this year. Runge, who was switched to a roving instructor position, had returned to the Braves this year after six years as Minor League field coordinator with Houston.

Miracle inning: Shut out for seven innings by St. Lucie starter Jordan Humphreys, the Fort Myers Miracle had an eighth inning worthy of the team nickname, scoring 11 times off three Mets relievers for an 11-0 victory June 30. There were seven hits, four walks, two hit batters and a balk in the inning, which saw 16 Fort Myers players come to the plate. Shortstop Jermaine Palacios and catcher Kevin Garcia each had two hits in the inning, while first baseman Zander Wiel had a three-run double and a walk. Palacios, recently promoted from Cedar Rapids, had three hits in that game and the next as well for the Miracle.

Power drain: Bradenton outfielder Logan Hill, who led the FSL with 16 homers and 52 RBIs, was promoted to Double-A Altoona by Pittsburgh on July 1. Hill's departure left the league without its three top home run hitters. First baseman Gavin LaValley, who had hit 15, and second baseman Shed Long, who had smashed 13, were promoted from Daytona to Double-A Pensacola by Cincinnati at the end of the first half. Hill, 24, had a .266/.351/.533 line. He was a 25th-round pick by the Pirates in the 2015 Draft out of Troy University.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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