Hechavarria a hit with 51s

Two years after signing with the Toronto Blue Jays following his daring defection from Cuba, 51s shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria appears ready to play in the big leagues.

Known for his outstanding defense, Hechavarria has been a hitting machine since joining Las Vegas, batting .389 in 25 games late last year and a team-leading .406 (13-for-32) through seven games this season.

"He's showing he can do some things maybe people didn't really expect him to do, especially on the offensive side," 51s manager Marty Brown said. "He's showing he's not intimidated by anybody that lets go of the ball."

But whenever Hechavarria gets the coveted call from the Blue Jays, it's likely a couple of his key family members won't be able to share in the joy of his big league debut.

Hechavarria's mother, Mirta, and older brother, Alien, still live in communist Cuba -- which probably is the reason he politely declined to discuss Thursday the controversial comments Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen made about retired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Guillen, who played for Las Vegas in 1984, expressed admiration for Castro in a recent interview with Time magazine. He later apologized for his comments, which led to a five-game suspension from Major League Baseball.

"He doesn't want to say anything about that," said 51s coach Danny Solano, who acted as Hechavarria's translator. "He's sorry."

According to Hechavarria, who turns 23 on Sunday, he fled Cuba in July 2009 on a small boat bound for Mexico, where he defected.

"People sometimes don't realize how tough it is," said Solano, a native of the Dominican Republic who played 12 seasons in the minors. "For players from the Dominican and Puerto Rico, everything is kind of easier because we've got the opportunity to come to the (United) States.

"But the Cuban guys, they don't have that opportunity. They've got to do a different thing to come over."

Fortunately for Hechavarria -- who signed a $10 million, four-year contract with Toronto in April 2010 -- his father, Diosmede, also escaped Cuba, and they live together in Miami in the offseason.

He hopes to eventually help bring his mother and brother here to join them.

For now, the 5-foot-11-inch, 180-pound Hechavarria remains focused on making it to the majors, which he expects to reach this year.

"I think I'm ready to play in the big leagues right now," he said. "But when that happens, that happens. Right now my mentality is in Las Vegas in Triple A."

Rated Toronto's best defensive infielder by Baseball America, Hechavarria has been hot at the plate since getting promoted here in August from Double-A New Hampshire, where he hit .235 in 111 games but was named the Eastern League's best defensive shortstop.

After going 42-for-108 for Las Vegas, he batted .353 for the Blue Jays in spring training and has continued his tear at Cashman Field, hitting safely in his first six games (13-for-28) with three doubles, a triple, three RBIs, nine runs and a stolen base for the 51s (2-6).

He went 0-for-4 with a walk and an RBI groundout Thursday in Las Vegas' 8-5 loss to Fresno.

"He's very confident, and the big thing about hitting is confidence," Brown said. "With Hech, he's always seemed to have some confidence, whether he gets three hits or no hits.

"He's a determined young man. He wants to get to the big leagues."

To increase his versatility, Hechavarria also is expected to see action at second base this season.

"We just want to make sure we expose him to it," Brown said. "We're not trying to change his position. He's probably the best shortstop I've ever had."

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.