FORT MYERS, FLA. – Ehire Adrianza surfaced with the San Francisco Giants for 18 at-bats in September 2013. He was a backup infielder over the next three seasons, playing in 145 games, none of which were in the Giants’ postseason run to a World Series title in 2014.
Adrianza was 27 and had missed a large hunk of the 2016 season because of a broken foot. The Giants cut him from the roster in January 2017. Milwaukee claimed Adrianza on Jan. 31 — not to secure a spot on the 40-player roster, but rather to send him back through waivers and then have him as a backup option in the organization.
The Twins claimed him on Feb. 6. You looked at the hitting numbers — .220 in the big leagues, .254 in 788 games in the minors — and had this response: “Pedro Florimon is back — a slap-hitting switch hitter.’’
Three years and three weeks later, Twins baseball CEO Derek Falvey was asked what was the original appeal of Adrianza. Falvey went through the e-mail exchange that took place at the time with fellow executives Thad Levine and Rob Antony and responded:
“We were of the mind that adding a defensive-oriented shortstop was a good fit on the roster over the additional reliever. We designated Pat Light to create the spot for Ehire.”
So, there it is: The new Twins brain trust put in a claim for a defender and wound up with a versatile contributor headed into his fourth season in Minnesota, with a $1.6 million contract signed last December.
Entering 2020, Adrianza has started 191 games for the Twins: 16 at first base, 14 at second, 99 at shortstop, 46 at third, 11 in left field and five in right field. He’s option B behind Jorge Polanco at shortstop and now Luis Arraez at second (with Jonathan Schoop gone), and could play as much first base as does Marwin Gonzalez as the backup to Miguel Sano.
The Twins took a flier on Adrianza for his glove and now appreciate his bat. What happened to him as a hitter in Minnesota?
“Opportunity. And experience. And more strength,” Adrianza said. “I love the Giants, will never say anything bad about that organization, but they were stacked with veteran infielders.
“Here — at times because of regulars being sidelined, and after Eduardo [Escobar] was traded — I have had more chances.”
The roster game in baseball throughout the 2010s became a constant shuffle to get 13 pitchers among the 25 players.
That put a lot of pressure on backup players to keep contributing, or they could be the next to go. And last May 11, when Adrianza was hitting .120 (6-for-50) with one home run as his only extra-base hit, his roster status seemed suspect.
“It was hard on me, but all I could do was keep trying to have good at-bats,” Adrianza said. “My thought was, ‘A few of those in a row, and maybe I can start a streak.’ ”
That’s what happened. A .120 average over the first 21 games in which he played turned into .390 (32-for-82), with eight extra-base hits (three homers) and 15 RBI in his next 32 games.
Rocco Baldelli, a rookie manager in 2019, said the woeful start did not jeopardize Adrianza’s employment status.
“From the beginning, there were never any secrets about AD,’’ Baldelli said. “The picture was painted very clearly. He’s a very talented guy that does a lot of different things well. I don’t think he has many weak spots at all. And he has a great way about him.”
(Note: “AD” is the going nickname for Adrianza. Easier to grasp than a first name pronounced “AY-ray,” apparently.)
The biggest change in Adrianza since he was with three organizations in a period of eight days in January-February 2017 is an ability to drive the ball. He’s 6-1, solid across the shoulders and 20 pounds heavier after working several winters with a trainer in Miami.
“My dad always has preached to me about doubles,” Adrianza said. “I hit quite a few in the minors. I had to be able to hit the gaps against big-league pitching, to get stronger.
“I found a trainer in Miami. I work with him all winter. Just me and him, one-and-one. He is outstanding.”
Adrianza had 23 doubles and 39 RBI in 335 at-bats in 2018. He has lamented disapppointing his father, Ehire Sr., who wanted 40. Ehire Sr. and Ozzie Guillen were close friends in Venezuela, and Ozzie is Ehire Jr.’s godfather.
The Adrianzas — Dad, Mom, Ehire’s wife Vielimar, and 7-year-old daughter Ehimar — live in the Miami area, as do many Venezuelan players with the troubles in their homeland.
“Our daughter is in dance,” Ehire said. “She does it all, hip-hop, jazz, everything. She’s pretty good.”
Adrianza smiled and said: “Dance is more time-consuming than baseball. She keeps her mom on the go.”