"He couldn't hit," farm director Jim Rantz said. "He was getting frustrated" after batting .199/.318/.288 at age 17 and 18.
But Twins coaches noticed one talent that Soliman possessed: When he fielded the ball cleanly, his throws across the diamond were fast and accurate. So when Soliman, who signed in March 2007, reported for his third season in 2009, it didn't take much lobbying to persuade him to put away his bat and move to the mound.
"Now he's turned himself into a real prospect," Rantz said. "It's amazing how quickly he learned a new skill. He's proven us right awfully fast."
That skill: striking out batters. Soliman spent 2010 at Rookie-level Elizabethton, tormenting hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a high-80s slider.
The 21-year-old righthander struck out 74 in 65 innings, good for an Appalachian League-best rate of 10.3 per nine innings. He went 5-2, 3.48 in 12 starts in his U.S. debut.
It's not the first time the Twins have suggested such a transition. After drafting Tim Lahey as a catcher in 2004, the organization quickly soured on his offensive potential and converted him to pitcher. He spent much of the past three seasons in the Triple-A Rochester bullpen prior to hitting the free agent market this offseason.
"He had never pitched before, but had a good, strong arm," Rantz said. "Manuel is the same way, just a little more raw. His mound presence was very good, I have to say."
To advance further, Rantz said, Soliman will need to develop his changeup and to mix his pitches better.
"These kids are so young, they just want to strike everybody out," he said. "He gets fastball-happy, but that's not uncommon. He's still learning how to pitch."
• The Twins signed minor league free agent righthander Eric Hacker to a big league deal. Named the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's top righthanded starter in 2010, he went 16-8, 4.51 for Fresno in the Giants system.
• The Twins re-signed three of their own to minor league deals: catcher Jair Fernandez, third baseman/outfielder Juan Portes and Triple-A righthander Kyle Waldrop. One of the club's first-round picks in 2004, Waldrop still could be taken in the Rule 5 draft.