DENVER — How many uffs does it take to win a Gold Glove?
The answer may come at the end of the season if Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria continues making highlight-reel plays.
Over the past month, national media has taken notice — but no web gem received as much attention as Saturday’s catch in the 12th inning.
With runners at the corners and two outs, Justin Morneau blooped a ball into left-center. Outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna were playing deep and wouldn’t catch up to the ball.
But Hechavarria could, sprinting to center field and reaching out for a backhanded grab as he slid on the grass. He flipped the ball out of his glove into his throwing hand as he would with a routine play, roaring with adrenaline.
Infield coach Perry Hill called Hechavarria "Gumby" because of the way his body contorted in order to push the game into the 13th. Until the play, Hill’s favorite defensive gem by Hechavarria came last year in Arizona when he went 20 feet into center and threw out a speedy Gerardo Parra.
It’s gotten to the point where this defensive wizardry is expected of him.
"It doesn’t surprise me anymore," Yelich said. "It’s fun to watch. He’s a big part of our team. The fact he’s able to make plays like that it’s going to help us win a lot of games. That’s an important position. You need a good defender at that position, and he’s one of the best."
Though Hechavarria ranks eighth in fielding percentage among National League shortstops with a .976 clip, it doesn’t paint the whole picture.
Last month, for example, he was given an error when his quick reflexes allowed him to snare a bad hop over his head — what would’ve been a hit otherwise — but his throw couldn’t be picked by Garrett Jones.
Since arriving in South Florida in 2012 as part of the Toronto Blue Jays trade, Hill has watched the 25-year-old blossom into the club’s everyday shortstop. Hechavarria has learned more through game experience — from determining how much time he has to throw out a runner to where to stand based on a hitter’s tendencies.
What makes him elite in Hill’s eyes? Consistency.
Like every infielder, Hechavarria wants to make every play at him. That is the priority. It’s a plus when he ranges 15 feet, dives and throws a runner out.
"He’s always going to make the spectacular play because he’s such a good athlete," Hill said last week. "He’s really calmed down and makes the routine plays now. Not taking it for granted. Making every ball a priority whether it’s right at you or 20 feet from you. You’re a shortstop, you’re an infielder in the big leagues — you’re paid to get outs. I think he figured that out."
Veteran right-hander Brad Penny is no stranger to elite infielders backing him up. He spent five seasons with Gold Glove winner Luis Castillo and shortstop Alex Gonzalez in Florida.
While manager Mike Redmond, another teammate during that time, wanted to wait before placing Hechavarria in Marlins lore for defense, Penny already acknowledges the potential. Players like Hechavarria allow pitchers to pitch to contact and let the defense do its work.
"Defensively he’s pretty special," Penny said. "There’s not many guys like that. To this day Alex Gonzalez is the best shortstop I’ve ever seen, but I saw him for 162 games for four, five years in a row. It wouldn’t be fair for me to compare Hech to him because I haven’t seen him enough. But the short time I’ve been here it’s definitely comparable to what Alex could do on the field. He’s pretty special."
Hill, who has instructed various Gold Glovers like Castillo and Derrek Lee, believes it’s only a matter of time before Hechavarria earns the accolade.
Yet it will be tough with Atlanta Braves’ Andrelton Simmons nearly a lock every season. He captured not only the Gold but also the Platinum Glove — given to the league’s top fielder — in 2013. This year, he is sixth in fielding percentage (.981) with two fewer errors than Hechavarria.
According to advanced stats from FanGraphs, Hechavarria’s defense (fielding and positional adjustment combined) is -2.8, putting him below average. His ultimate zone rating above average per 150 games is -9.8.
The Marlins organization, naturally, has repeatedly stated its disapproval of these statistics and metrics.
"They’ve got all these fancy numbers you measure stuff by and I guess I’m just a dinosaur," Hill said. "I go by what I see. I know what my eyes see and my eyes tell me he’s an elite shortstop."
Hechavarria shows me everyday why WAR and all these #s are garbage. Best defensive shortstop I've seen period. Fish fight on 2morrow
The Jacksonville Suns and Miami Marlins agreed to a two-year extension of their player development contract, as announced Sunday.
Jacksonville has been the Double-A affiliate for the Marlins since 2009 and has not recorded a losing season. Alumni on Miami’s current roster include outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna as well as closer Steve Cishek.