The Continuing Transformation of Lynchburg’s Matt Solter

If you examine the baseball resume of Matt Solter, your first thought might be journeyman. Since graduating from high school in New Bern, North Carolina, in 2012, he has pitched for Furman University, the Strasburg Express of the Valley League, the independent clubs of Gary-Southshore and St. Paul (bracketing a two-year stint in the Giants organization at Augusta and then San Jose), and finally ending up with the Cleveland Indians organization for the 2019 season.

This is not an unusual pathway for an undrafted player. For Solter, it is par for the course.

“My whole life has kind of set me up for this,” he shared with Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “All this travel is fun for me, so easy.”

Born in Quantico, Virginia, his father served 22 years in the Marine Corps. This necessitated a number of moves, first to Texas and then on to North Carolina. Both places proved formative in his development at a baseball player.

From the age of three or four, he began with T-ball. From there, it was on to Little League. Solter identified himself as a poor player at this point in his life, but his participation led him to develop a deep love for the game.

“I was actually kind of terrible,” Solter recalled about his early forays into baseball. “I would cry when they put me in I was so bad.”

It was the advantage of being in a military family that allowed him to keep playing.

“The reason the coach let me on the team, and we were a good team, was that we were a military family, so he knew I’d be on time and picked up on time,” said Solter.

Eventually his skills caught up with his determination. From T-ball through most of high school, he played outfield. He made the junior varsity his freshman year and began to make some strides, making the varsity squad as a sophomore and playing in the outfield for three years. It was during his senior season that he began pitching and became an All-State nominee.

Even with that recognition offers for college baseball were not coming. It was the father of one of his Showcase teammates, David Houser, who put in a good word with the pitching coach at Furman University. Without ever seeing him, they made an initial offer.

During an official follow-up visit, Solter pitched at a camp, with his performance supporting the good word that had been passed on about his talent.

“It felt like the right fit,” said Solter, “and I got to enjoy four years there.”

He had expected to be drafted, sometime after the 10th round. His coaches thought he profiled as a senior sign kind of player, one where organizations would take a chance in a late draft round.

His college stats were strong – 212 strikeouts in 249 1/3 innings – and he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio each of his four seasons with the Paladins.

“I thought my stuff was good, but I didn’t really know how to pitch. I was a thrower,” said Solter. “My numbers took a hit because of that.”

Undrafted, he moved into Independent baseball, signing with the Gary-Southshore Railcats. Independent ball is very different from getting drafted and beginning the slow climb to the Major Leagues. It is all about opportunity, being good enough at the right time to impress a scout and get a shot at a contract in the affiliated leagues. Solter pitched the season out of the Railcats bullpen, but did not get picked up.

The following year he went to Florida to work with Cressey Sport Performance in Jupiter, Florida. Through them, he had some workouts for scouts, including two private workouts for the Giants in the space of a week.

“I was throwing pretty hard and was able to peak their interest a little bit. Then nothing for about a month and a half,” recalled Solter.

He had driven from Jupiter back home to North Carolina, and was getting ready to go to spring training camp with Gary-Southshore when the call came and he got his first shot in affiliated ball. It was in his two years with the Giants organization where he began to develop as a pitcher.

“Initially, the independent competition was a little better, a product of a lot of those guys being older and having been in the affiliated leagues. A couple of them were Big Leaguers,” he said.

He started to think like a pitcher, reading swings, breaking down batters, and learning how to judge situations in a game and make adjustments. Plus, he was part of an organization, so learning how that operates was also a chance for growth, both personally and professionally.

Released by the Giants after reaching High-A San Jose, he returned for a year to Independent ball, this time with the cream-of-the-crop, the St. Paul Saints. His 15 starts with St. Paul were second on the team, tossing 80 innings for a 3-5 record with 56 strikeouts.

“They’ve got a $68 million dollar stadium and sell out pretty much every night,” said Solter. “You are treated like a Big Leaguer there.”

After one season, it was an easy jump to joining the Cleveland organization this spring. He even got in two appearances with the Major League club during spring training, pitching two innings and allowing two singles.
When teams broke camp he remained behind in Extended Spring Training, but it was not far into April when he made his AA debut for the Akron RubberDucks. Just more travel, another new place to explore and learn about.

He would spend eight days on the active roster, pitching nine innings over two starts, before a temporary move to Rookie-level Mahoning Valley. Really a paper move, so that the AA club could keep a fresh supply of arms, as the depleted Major League club was drawing pitchers up through the system. He would return to the active roster and start three more games before getting reassigned to the High-A Lynchburg club on May 6.

At 26, the 6’3”, 220 lb. right-hander is now a veteran. His childhood experience has prepared him well for the rigorous travel inherent in playing minor league baseball, but he raves about the Cleveland organization and their commitment to developing every single one of the players in their system to their fullest potential.

“It’s phenomenal! For me, it’s been a struggle to develop when I didn’t have much, didn’t learn as much in college how to be a pitcher,” said Solter. “They [Cleveland] are all about player development. They generally care about getting the most out of each guy.”

With a five-pitch mix that features a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a slider, a change-up, and a curveball, Solter has an arsenal that he is now learning to command. His slider is his out pitch, and he is trying to get his curveball back to the form it had several years ago, to give him a better array of offerings as a starter to keep hitters off balance.

In eleven starts during the current season, Solter has posted a 5-1 record, a 3.18 ERA, and 53 strikeouts in 56.2 innings across two levels, a very solid performance overall. Until his June 4 outing against the Carolina League’s top team in Down East, he had not lost a game.

Keep watching Matt Solter. Enjoying new situations, being adaptable, and learning to be successful wherever he may step onto a mound are just part of his growth from thrower to pitcher.

Photo: David Monseur/Akron RubberDucks

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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