BOISE — As the Boise Hawks took fielding practice before Friday nights 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. Hes 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 Penalvers range, but also paid attention to a sign of just how quick the Venezuelan can be.
Hes 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 its still perfectly flat, Bryant said. I feel like every time the ball is hit somewhat in his direction, hell get it. Ive played with some good shortstops, but Ive never played with one like him. That makes my job a lot easier, too.
Entering Friday nights game, Penalvers .953 fielding percentage on 215 total chances and 0.22 errors per game (10 in 45 games) were second-best among the Northwest Leagues 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, youre 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.
Thats kind of how its been since I was little, Penalver said through teammate Rony Rodriguez. There havent 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 Ive been working on the last week, and Im 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. Hes still very young, so hell get bigger, stronger and faster. Were 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 countrys strong tradition of shortstops, which has included Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel and young stars like Texas Elvis Andrus.
Hell learn from those offensive struggles, and hell improve but that defense is what will keep him playing for a long time, Van Tol said.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn