It's never easy for first-year college players, especially those coming from successful programs like The University of Louisville. It usually means little to no break for the drafted players and it can be tough to combine that with the necessary adjustments needed to made at the professional level and yet by all accounts it was a very successful year overall for Solak.
"I think it went well," he said. "It's kind of a whirlwind getting drafted out of college and the draft happens even before our season was over. We're playing in the Super Regional the weekend after [the draft] so it was kind of a whirlwind; getting drafted, playing in the Super Regionals, had just a couple of days off before flying down to Tampa and signing [with the Yankees], and flying from Tampa to Staten Island before starting my career.
"I thought it went really well [though]. I think I showed what I can do, what kind of player I am, and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. It was the kind of the consistent numbers and kind of consistent player that I've been throughout my career. It kind of kept going in college ball into professional ball. I thought it was the kind of season I envisioned and on top it was nice to make the playoffs too."
Consistency had been his calling card throughout his collegiate career and it showed once again in Staten Island as he went hitless in consecutive games just twice all season long. He says though that his greatest strength needed some further tweaking.
"Developing a routine," he said of his the biggest thing he learned. "Going from college ball where you play games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and one more mid-week -- you're playing a game maybe four or five days a week as opposed to pro ball where you're playing every single day and your body doesn't feel great every single day, and you're going through the struggles of facing some better arms, you're taking long bus rides, -- so developing a routine that can help you stay consistent through that and working hard everyday to help your team win, I think that was the biggest thing I learned, how to deal with that and how to prepare for that."
If consistency isn't his biggest strength then it's his ability to swing the bat overall. Known for being an offensive-minded middle infielder, he says he can already feel a difference defensively at second base in pretty short order. A shortstop in high school who moved to the outfield in his early college years, 2016 was actually the first full season where he played exclusively at second base.
"During college I played pretty much all different positions. I think I can play a lot of different positions but I'm definitely focused on improving my play at second base, being the best defender that I can be. I think with the work that I put in at Instructs and this offseason, just keep improving on that and trusting that process I think I'll be able to become a plus defender and make some big-time plays."
Perhaps unfairly knocked by critics for what is actually already a very solid defensive game at second base, the fact is Solak has some tangible ceiling in the field, and because he is still relatively new to the position he and the Yankees got to work on setting a good foundation,
"At Instructs we worked on the fundamentals, just really nailing that down," he insisted. "It all works like a checklist. 'Mendi' [Carlos Mendoza], our infield coordinator, kinds of tells the guys it works as a checklist, you start with the fundamentals and then you get more specific into things like the double-play feed.
"At Instructs we worked hard on perfecting those fundamentals -- having a wide base, my glove presentation, stuff like that -- and towards the end as the offseason was approaching we worked more on double-play feeds, double-play turns, stuff like that, things that I can keep working on and improving this offseason. I'm set on being a Gold Glove second baseman and I'm working hard towards achieving that goal."
Often compared to current Yankee utility player Rob Refsnyder as more of a hit-first second baseman, while it's true the offensive potential is pretty similar, defensively the two are beginning their careers at completely different spots, especially from a defensive confidence standpoint.
And while there's obvious ceiling to his defensive game, as good as he is offensively already, he and the Yankees believe there is still some significant upside to be tapped on that side of the ball as well.
"I definitely think so," he opined. "With this offseason getting bigger and stronger that's going help my power numbers whether that's hitting some more jacks or driving in some more runs. With the speed work I'm doing this offseason as well I can steal more bases.
"I think all aspects of my game can continue to improve and that's the goal, to get a little bit better every single day this offseason and into the season, to continue to grow as a player and get better to eventually help the Yankees win a World Series.
"They're looking for guys that are going to help the team win because when you get to that level that's all it's about winning games, making the playoffs, and winning the World Series. I think that my game and that consistency on offense and defense plays into helping a team win."
He's already excited for his first full season in 2017. He plans on spending his offseason in Louisville training at his former college but he says even though it is still early November that he is already getting that itch to play in games once again, especially with the debut season and Instructional League camp he just had.
"Getting bigger and stronger are right at the top of the list," he said of the offseason plans. "They want me to add a little bit of weight, a little bit of body fat, just so my body can better endure the 140-game season so the bumps and bruised don't hurt as bad.
"That's one of the things at the top of my list, definitely, as well as working on my swing, getting my swing right. And defensively, my play at second base, it something we worked extensively on at Instructs. I think I formed a really good base, what I need to work on to keep improving my play at second base," he concluded.