Hawks’ teenage shortstop already knows how to flash the leather

Carlos Penalver’s defensive prowess provides his best chance to move up the ranks.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comAugust 10, 2013 

boise hawks, hillsboro hops, baseball, memorial stadium

Boise Hawks player Carlos Eduardo Penalver (6) makes a play on a ground ball resulting in an out during the first game of a double header against he Hillsboro Hops at Memorial Stadium.

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  • Hawks win on walkoff sac fly

    Though they hit into a Northwest League record-tying six double plays, the Boise Hawks mounted a comeback in the final two innings Friday to defeat the Vancouver Canadians 5-4.

    Kris Bryant's sacrifice fly scored Carlos Penalver in the bottom of the ninth to give the Hawks (29-24, 8-7 second half) the walk-off win. Boise rallied with four runs in the eight inning off a two-RBI Jacob Rogers single, a wild pitch that scored Bryant, and a Rony Rodriguez RBI single that tied it 4-4.

    The Canadians were unable to take advantage of 13 hits and five walks, as they left 14 runners stranded in the win, including three innings in which they left the bases loaded.

    Kevin Encarnacion had three hits for the Hawks, who also got a pair of hits each from Penalver and Bryant, who is riding a 12-game hitting streak.

— As the Boise Hawks took fielding practice before Friday night’s game against the Vancouver Canadians, shortstop Carlos Penalver snatched up almost every ball, as usual.

Afterward, there was little trace he was there.

The 19-year-old has shown an impressive defensive prowess in his first season with the Hawks typically reserved for someone at least of legal drinking age.

“There are plays that he makes that are not routine that look they are,” Hawks manager Gary Van Tol said. “He’s the best shortstop in the league, in my opinion.”

Third baseman Kris Bryant looked off to his left side as fielding practice wrapped up, admiring Penalver’s range, but also paid attention to a sign of just how quick the Venezuelan can be.

“He’s so light on his feet. I looked at where I was and it was all torn up, and you look over at where he was standing, and it’s still perfectly flat,” Bryant said. “I feel like every time the ball is hit somewhat in his direction, he’ll get it. I’ve played with some good shortstops, but I’ve never played with one like him. That makes my job a lot easier, too.”

Entering Friday night’s game, Penalver’s .953 fielding percentage on 215 total chances and 0.22 errors per game (10 in 45 games) were second-best among the Northwest League’s shortstops with at least 25 games played this season, according to baseball-reference.com.

“He has a tremendous gift with his glove,” Van Tol said. “When he makes an error, you’re kind of like, ‘Wait, did that just happen?’ ”

Ever since he first put on a glove when he was 4, Penalver has been a vacuum for just about anything hit his way.

“That’s kind of how it’s been since I was little,” Penalver said through teammate Rony Rodriguez. “There haven’t been any issues with that, but I need to finish better at the plate.”

Penalver is batting .229, but after getting a single and double Friday is 6-of-14 in his last four games.

“There was some mechanical stuff I’ve been working on the last week, and I’m feeling much better,” Penalver said.

While his defense is already solid and his offense is coming along, Penalver also has fit the mold with his speed. He has five steals this season, but had 21 in 72 games in 2011 for the Cubs’ Dominican League team.

“He feels he should be doing better offensively, but frankly, if you can be a great defender and run a bit, you can hit .240 and play in the big leagues,” Van Tol said of the 6-foot, 170-pound Penalver. “He’s still very young, so he’ll get bigger, stronger and faster. We’re not going to rush that.”

Van Tol said he expects Penalver to learn to play second base and third base as he becomes more mature to be a more flexible prospect, though shortstop is still his longterm best fit. Happy to represent Venezuela, he hopes to continue his country’s strong tradition of shortstops, which has included Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel and young stars like Texas’ Elvis Andrus.

“He’ll learn from those offensive struggles, and he’ll improve — but that defense is what will keep him playing for a long time,” Van Tol said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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