The Cyclones’ dreams of postseason glory depend largely on their new shortstop Wilfredo Tovar, a 19-year-old Venezuelan with preternatural fielding skills — and a whole lot to learn at the plate.
Tovar, the replacement for the injured Rylan Sandoval, who went down with a broken wrist in the midst of an MVP–style season — has thus far filled in serviceably for the Clones former leadoff man.
But manager Wally Backman isn’t nervous about his new player — in fact, he couldn’t be happier that Tovar is on the team, especially considering he was lobbying for the youngster to be on the roster at the beginning of the season, when he ended up on Class A Savannah in the Sallie League, where he batted .281.
“Tovar makes plays at shortstop that a human being shouldn’t be able to make,” said Backman. “He’s the best shortstop in this league, no question.”
At the plate, though, Tovar lacks the power that made Sandoval so effective at the top of the order.
Currently, Tovar has a .237 batting average in only 10 games, while Sandoval’s season ended prematurely with a .330 average in 47 games. Sandoval had nine home runs and 13 doubles — so far, Tovar only has one extra-base hit.
Either the new guy has the just-joined-the-team jitters, or his teammates are going to have to pick up the slack.
Last Thursday, that is exactly what the team did, as the Cyclones tied it up in the ninth inning off of Will Cherry’s blast to center-left-field. Tovar — choking up on the bat and looking anxious at the plate — then had an ugly strikeout, sending the game into extra innings.
Then, in the bottom of the 10th, Darrell Ceciliani hit a dinger to right-field, making for a glorious, come from behind victory for the Clones. That kind of clutch hitting will be more valuable than ever, now that Sandoval’s bat is out of the lineup.
“Sandoval was the total package,” said Backman, “He could hit for power, run the bases, and made all the routine plays.”
But in the next breath, Backman showed an enthusiasm rare for the grizzled, old-school skipper.
“But you got to see Tovar, he’s superior defensively — he’s spectacular, he really is,” said Backman.
Jeff Flagg, the Clones first-baseman, echoed the manager.
“Tovar has really got a lot of range,” said Flagg adding, “and a real strong arm, too.”
If Backman turns out to be right about the shortstop — and he has been right pretty much all season — then Tovar may be a blessing in disguise, as he could be the cure for the team’s Achilles heel: costly errors.
The Clones infield has racked up 61 errors in just 44 games.
But if the young Venezuelan settles down and lives up to the hype, he would be the team’s anchor in the infield, making the Cyclones not just an offensive powerhouse, but a defensive one as well.