Solarte entrenched at third for Padres, unless …

Switch-hitter sought by other teams this offseason

Solarte entrenched at third for Padres, unless …

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

The value of Yangervis Solarte can best be set by the fact that 10 teams have reportedly contacted Padres general manager A.J. Preller about the possibility of acquiring the third baseman through a trade this offseason.

But unless someone comes up with a package that Preller can't reject, the switch-hitting Solarte will be the Padres third baseman in 2017. And deservedly so.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan had a solid season in 2016 despite dealing with the worst of circumstances -- the illness of his wife Yuliett that tragically resulted in her death this past September.

Through it all, Solarte batted .286 with 15 homers and 71 RBIs in 109 games. In addition to missing time due to his wife's illness and passing, Solarte also missed 38 games early in the season with a right hamstring strain.

Despite missing almost 50 games, Solarte set career highs in batting average, home runs and RBIs. His 14-game hitting streak in September was a career-best and the longest by a Padre in 2016.

Solarte spent most of the season as the Padres' cleanup hitter, although that's probably not his best spot in the order. His fielding at third also improved.

Since coming to the Padres along with right-handed pitcher Rafael De Paula in the July 22, 2014, trade -- negotiated by then interim general manager A.J. Hinch that sent third baseman Chase Headley to the Yankees -- Solarte has hit .275 with 33 homers and 151 RBIs in 317 games, with a .330 on-base percentage and a .428 slugging percentage for a .758 OPS.

But what if another team comes up with a deal Preller can't refuse? Who will play third?

The best option is Ryan Schimpf, whose best defensive position is probably third and looked good there last season during several of Solarte's late-season absences. The presence of rookie Carlos Asuaje or Cory Spangenberg to take over at second, would allow Schimpf to play third.

Schimpf played third last season for Triple-A El Paso before he was promoted to the Padres in June. The Padres then moved him into the void at second caused by the season-ending quad injury suffered by Spangenberg in April.

Of course, the same questions that Schimpf had at second would follow him to third. He had 20 homers and 51 RBIs plus a .336 on-base percentage and .533 slugging percentage (for a .869 OPS) in just 89 games last season following his Major League debut at the advanced age of 28. But he also had a .217 batting average and 105 strikeouts in 276 at-bats.

Eight-nine games does not a career make. Can Schimpf repeat the power numbers and on-base percentage while improving his batting average and cutting down the strikeouts? Defensively, playing third wouldn't seem to be a problem.

Third base is not one of the Padres' deeper positions in the organization, although their depth of shortstop prospects at the lower levels could lead to several being shifted to third base. Several of the Padres' better young middle-infield prospects -- Luis Urias, Fernando Tatis, Hudson Potts, Eguy Rosario -- spent a little time at third base last season in the lower levels of the system.

The most intriguing third base prospect in the system might be 20-year-old Carlos Belen. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Dominican Republic native hit 12 homers with 72 RBIs with Class A Fort Wayne last season. But he also struck out 132 times in 436 at-bats and batted .222.

Another player to watch is Josh VanMeter. The Padres thought enough of the 21-year-old, fifth-round pick from the 2013 Draft to send him to the Arizona Fall League when he hit .265 and drew 17 walks for a .416 on-base percentage. VanMeter hit .251 between Class A advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio last season with 14 homers and 56 RBIs in 124 games.