04/23/10 3:28 PM ET
Hechavarria begins pro journey
Cuban shortstop working hard to make it to big leagues
By Chris Girandola / Special to MLB.com
Standing next to the other young Minor Leaguers, and hitting before and after them, it was clear why the Blue Jays signed the recently-turned 21-year-old Cuban to a four-year, $10 million contract. Besides his "ready for The Show" athletic frame, the way the ball bounced off his bat resembled many Major Leaguers.
But the way Hechavarria handled his first news conference may speak even louder to his huge potential. Taking questions in both English and Spanish from a few print and television reporters inside the Bobby Mattick Training Center, the polished native of Santiago De Cuba gleaned the professionalism and maturity of a 10-year veteran with the generous nature of a rookie.
While Hechavarria continues to work on his English -- seven days per week with a private instructor -- his 25-minute interview session with the assistance of Blue Jays director of Latin American operations Jeff Roemer as his translator mirrored his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Blue Jays become a winning team once again.
"I was aware of what a great organization Toronto was, and I knew I had a direct course to getting to the next level as soon as possible," said Hechavarria, who spent last season in the Cuban League posting a .262 average with six doubles, two triples and one home run. "I've always wanted to play in the Majors, and I am very excited about taking the first step in getting there."
With comparisons ranging from former Blue Jays shortstop Alfredo Griffin to Chicago Cubs star Alfonso Soriano, Hechavarria has tried to model his game after the likes of current star shortstops such as Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. He admires Jeter's intelligence, Reyes' speed and the technical side of Ramirez's game.
While the Blue Jays have not voiced any exact timetable for the young prospect, Hechavarria wants to show the organization how eager he is.
"It's important to always look to improve as an athlete," said Hechavarria, who committed five errors in 217 chances, for a .977 fielding percentage, last season. "It's important to look for ways to improve as a hitter and a fielder every day."
Hechavarria, who was the starting shortstop for the Cuban Junior Team in 2007 that played in the World Junior Championships in Canada, has been in extended spring camp since the Blue Jays headed north. He is expected to be assigned to an affiliate soon and will face his first real action on Saturday morning against Phillies Minor Leaguers as a designated hitter at the Englebert Complex.
While there is no rush to bring the phenom up to the Majors, his signing fills the biggest need for the Blue Jays.
"There's no question, the financial commitment speaks for itself, that we're hoping this is someone who can emerge and be a core piece for us," general manager Alex Alex Anthopoulos said earlier this month. "This is a significant signing for us, certainly the largest bonus we've ever given to an amateur player."
Before Hechavarria, the previous team record for an amateur player was $2.4 million given to lefty Ricky Romero in 2005. If the shortstop can follow Romero's early path, Blue Jays fans will be happy to know they have someone to man shortstop for many years.
In the mean time, Hechavarria follows the advice of his Cuban roommate in Dunedin, third-year pitcher Kenny Rodriguez.
"Work hard, arrive on time, and show everyone what you can do," Hechavarria said.
For Hechavarria, that's an easy recipe to follow. With his family -- father, Diosmede, mother, Mirta, and 27-year-old brother, Alien -- back in his hometown, he realizes how fortunate he is.
"Every day when I step on the field here, I think about how I've made it," he said. "I want to bring my family over as soon as possible to enjoy it with me. The dream isn't lost on me. I'm living it every day and I want to make the most of it."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.