When infield coach Perry Hill likes what he sees from one of his players, he usually salutes them by shouting with the type of energy reserved for a crazed college offensive line coach on game day.
“Stop it!” Hill will scream before either pumping his fist or tipping his cap after a good defensive play. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
Adeiny Hechavarria doesn’t quite understand what Hill is saying. Hechavarria’s English needs more work. But the 23-year-old, Cuban-born, new Marlins shortstop gets the gist of Hill’s celebrations. Hechavarria (5-11, 180) said good defensive work fires him up, too.
“I like the way he motivates his players — it motivates you to keep going, to do it better,” said Hechavarria, a Triple A All-Star last season with the Blue Jays who was targeted by the Yankees as a potential replacement for Derek Jeter when he first defected through Mexico in 2009.
“[Hill] wants things done right, and that’s what I want — for things to be done right on the field.”
The Marlins, who open Grapefruit League play Saturday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, acquired Hechavarria, pitcher Henderson Alvarez and top outfield prospect Jake Marisnick as the primary pieces in their blockbuster 12-player trade with the Blue Jays in November.
President of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said Hechavarria could end up being the best defensive shortstop the Marlins have had in a long time, and projects him to hit seventh — or somewhere in the bottom half of the order — when the regular season kicks off April 1 in Washington.
“I like him,” said Hill, who compares Hechavarria to former Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez. “He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do. He has a chance to be a very good player for a long time.”
Since camp began, Hill said he has been working with Hechavarria to improve his footwork, so his already strong arm produces more fluid results. Marty Scott, the Marlins vice president of player development, said he has seen Hill have Hechavarria close his eyes before making throws so he trusts what he’s being taught. Hill said Thursday that Hechavarria has already made great strides in his footwork in the little time he has worked with him.
Hechavarria, who signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Blue Jays in 2010 and will make $1.75 million this season, said he spent the offseason training with four-time Gold Glove winner Tony Fernandez near Hechavarria’s home in Weston. He also said he spent the past two seasons with the Blue Jays “acting like a sponge” around 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel.
Filling the shoes of Jose Reyes, Hechavarria said, isn’t his concern. He wants to make a name for himself.
“For me, there’s no comparison to Reyes,” Hechavarria said. “He’s a great player. I’ve always admired him ever since I was in Cuba. I used to watch him and Jeter on DVDs. They have tremendous talent. If I can play as good as [Reyes] or not, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to go out and try to be the best I can.”
Hitting at the big-league level is what Hechavarria said he has to show he can do. Over the past two years at Triple A, he hit a combined .327 with eight homers and 74 RBI in 127 games. In 41 games with Toronto last year, Hechavarria hit just .254 with two home runs, 15 RBI and 32 strikeouts. He posted just a .280 on-base percentage. His goal is to greatly improve his OBP and hit around .280.
“I’m working every day in the cages on staying closed to hit the ball up the middle and not open myself up,” Hechavarria said. “I think with that work I’m doing, I’ll make better contact with the ball.”
Manager Mike Redmond, who has compared Hechavarria to former Marlins World Series hero Edgar Renteria, said he has been impressed early in camp with Hechavarria.
“He’s got some great hands and is going to make some exciting plays out there,” Redmond said. “To be able to play defense the way we know he’s capable of and swing the bat, that’s a special player right there.”