FORT MYERS, Fla. – People are constantly butchering his name, Ehire Adrianza says. It’s pronounced AY-ray, but more than one non-Spanish speaker has addressed him as EE-hire, like the job-recruiting website.
Then again, maybe that version was appropriate. Because over the course of two uneasy weeks, the Venezuelan shortstop lost his job, found another, then lost it, too. Suddenly, he worried that the 27-year-old Ehire was going to need ehire.
“It was getting so close to spring training, all the teams pretty much had wrapped up their camp rosters. I wouldn’t say it was scary, but I guess I was pretty anxious. That close to spring training, I want to know where I’ll be,” Adrianza said of being waived twice and claimed twice as January turned to February. “It was upsetting. It’s the first time it’s happened to me. But it worked out pretty well.”
Adrianza had been in the Giants system for 12 seasons, since signing as a 16-year-old, and a big leaguer for parts of the past four. He helped the Giants get to the 2014 World Series, and watched from the dugout (because of a hamstring injury) as they won a championship. But last month, the Giants, having signed Jimmy Rollins for a utility role, took him off their roster. The Brewers claimed him on Jan. 31 — then waived him again two days later.
“It was kind of weird. I talked to their general manager [David Stearns], and he told me, ‘Hey man, welcome to the team, glad to have you,’ all that kind of stuff,” Adrianza said. “Then two days later he called back and said, ‘We needed a first baseman [they claimed Jesus Aguilar from the Indians], so we took you off the roster. We’d love for you to stay, but it’s a business.’ ”
He was nervous for a weekend, but then got some good news: The Twins, a little nervous themselves about their infield defense, had claimed him. Considering his offseason home is in Miami, a two-hour drive from Fort Myers, Adrianza was thrilled.
Paul Molitor might be, too. The Twins manager has been blunt this winter about his desire to shore up Minnesota’s defense. Advanced statistics say Adrianza is not only the sharpest infield glove on the roster — albeit a bright orange-and-black one at the moment, his Giants-colors glove — but that it’s not even close.
Ultimate Zone Rating, projected over 150 games, pegs Adrianza at the level of Francisco Lindor, Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Crawford — recognized as the slickest fielding shortstops in the game. His career average UZR/150 of 19.8 would make him the best infield glove man the Twins have had in more than a decade, if he played more games.
And just three days into training camp, his coaches have already noticed.
“He just shows you all the feel and balance and rhythm that you look for in a good shortstop. The way he moves is fluid and smooth. He’s one of those guys who always seems to get a good hop,” said Gene Glynn, who coaches the Twins infielders. “He’s got terrific range, and after the catch, he has a really good feel for momentum and changing direction to get the throw-out.”
Added Molitor: “We’re only eight days in, but you nAotice him. One of the things I read when we got him [was that] he’s going to be the best defensive shortstop on the field when he’s out there. We’ll see about that, but it shows what people think of him.”
Of course, there’s a reason such a strong defender is waived twice in a week. Adrianza isn’t nearly as adept with a bat in his hand, with a career .220 average and .292 on-base percentage in 331 career plate appearances. But the switch hitter batted .254 last season and .353 against lefthanded pitching, despite missing nearly four months with a broken foot — when he returned to health, former Twin Eduardo Nunez had claimed his job — and Molitor has seen signs that he’s improving as he ages.
“I kind of like what I’ve seen [in] his approach and what he thinks about” at the plate, Molitor said. “A lot of polish there for a young man.”
Adrianza has played all four infield positions for the Giants, so he will compete with Eduardo Escobar and perhaps Danny Santana for a utility role behind starting infielders Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano. He focused on third base during winter ball a year ago, so he’s comfortable making long throws.
He’s not so comfortable speculating about a role with the Twins, though.
“I haven’t talked with the manager about my role. I just want to make the team first,” Adrianza said. “Nothing is guaranteed here, just because they picked me up. I learned that already this month.”