Tovar Rounding Into Form

Tovar is getting better in every facet

ST. LUCIE, FL - An electric shortstop for the high-A St. Lucie Mets, Wilfredo Tovar brings a lot to the table. Tovar is highly touted as the best defensive infielder in the system and his offensive approach greatly complements his defensive game. Persistent progression at shortstop and at the plate should earn him a well deserved call up in the near future.

Rated as the best defensive infielder by the New York Mets organization over the past two years, you may wonder what kind of talent and ability Wilfredo Tovar offers.

Tovar has the ability to reach balls that many shortstops don't normally get to. His agility allows him to keep the ball in the infield, therefore preventing runs from being scored on balls that usually reach the outfield grass.

When asked to talk about his strengths as a shortstop Tovar grinned and replied, "My strengths are my range and my arm."

His sure-handedness along with exceptional range and terrific arm have definitely made him a standout ballplayer.

"He brings a flash, a flare and attitude to shortstop," St. Lucie manager Ryan Ellis said. "He goes out there and expects to catch every ground ball.

"He's a versatile, rangy type of kid. He has very good hands and a good instinct for the game. He gets to balls that other shortstops wouldn't get to."

The manager highlighted Tovar's defensive ability against the competition.

"The kid can play," Ellis added. "He has a plus arm, and his defense is as good as I've seen here in the past seven years being with New York. Not only with New York but with the competition that we've played against he's probably one of the best defenders that I've seen."

Tovar also demonstrates good character and leadership on and off the field, important for anyone who plays the demanding shortstop position.

"Being a shortstop is like being a leader," Tovar explained. "I like to be in charge and involved in every play. I try to be ahead of the game mentally."

His work ethic stands out too. It's noticed by coaches and fellow teammates.

"He's a very hard working kid," Ellis said. "Very diligent, a perfectionist. He's the type of kid that won't get out of the cage or won't come off the field until he feels comfortable with where he's at on that given day. He's an example for the rest of the guys and the infielders especially."

In addition to his outstanding defensive talent, Tovar has made great strides offensively. He is a contact hitter who has shown increasing patience and discipline at the plate. His speed also makes him dangerous on the base paths.

With regards to stealing bases Ellis maintained, "He definitely has the green light."

"He's learning how to steal bases," Ellis said, "and how to get reads off left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers as well. That's a dynamic he can bring to the table."

Tovar averages fourteen stolen bases a year but he has twelve this year already, and the first half has just ended.

Aside from a slight slip in his batting average last year, Tovar has slowly brought it up each season. He is currently batting .287 through 209 at-bats.

Tovar explained his approach at the dish.

"I've worked on making adjustments with different pitches and I always have a plan," Tovar said. "I focus on one pitch and it depends on what I'm looking for.

"I'm staying with that pitch the whole at-bat. I look for a certain location and spot. If they throw a curveball in a hitter's count I don't go after it. I try to be mentally strong and focused."

Tovar has shown increasing ability to draw walks. Last year he more than tripled his number of walks from the previous year. This is reflected in his walk percentage increasing from 3.2% in 2010 to 6.0% in 2011. His walk percentage has increased this year to a respectable 10.1%.

Hitting coach Benny Distefano elaborated on Tovar's improvements as a hitter.

"He has matured as a hitter and really taken his game to another level," Distefano said. "He brings plate discipline by taking the walks. So he's getting his pitches to hit as reflected by his average, on-base percentage, and his whole game. And now that he's walking his strikeouts are way down."

When asked if his ability to make contact can translate to the Major League level, Distefano answered with a resounding "YES."

"He doesn't strikeout at all," Distefano asserted. "He's done an incredible job."

In fact, Tovar's strikeout percentage has decreased over the past two years and currently stands at an impressive 6.7%.

With his walk percentage increasing and strikeout percentage decreasing, the correlation has resulted in greater on-base percentage. His OBP is currently at .370 this season. Coupled with his knowledge of game situations while at the plate, Tovar's improved awareness of the strike zone has undoubtedly paid off.

"What he's really done a great job at is staying on top of the ball, keeping the ball out of the air, and staying off the pitches out of the zone," Distefano explained.

Tovar's ability to get on base is also reflected in his slugging percentage. He is slugging .388 this season and his OPS is currently .757.

Ellis described Tovar's offensive capability.

"He's a contact type of guy. He stays up the middle and can go the other way. You can count on him to get on base and help the rest of the guys out. He's going to give you quality at bats whether he goes 0 for 4, or 4 for 4. The more he plays the better the approach."

Statistically Tovar also displays good numbers in clutch situations. With the bases empty he is batting .270. But with runners on he is hitting .306 and with runners in scoring position he is hitting .328.

"He does everything well," Distefano stated. "He's really driving the ball all over the field. There are a lot of different things you can do in different situations with him now."

Distefano continued, "He's an outstanding player with the ability to drive doubles and get a lot of hard singles. That's the type of player he is and that's the type of player he's going to be as he progresses and gets to the major leagues."

Batting primarily second in the order Tovar is hitting .287 with 21 RBIs, 30 runs scored, 25 walks, only 16 strikeouts. A third of his hits have fallen for extra bases.

When asked to characterize Tovar's play on the field Ellis didn't hold back.

"He brings a lot of energy. For me he's the type of guy that you love having play for you, but hate playing against. He's scrappy and he's smart as well."

Tovar is developing at a nice pace and deserving of a call up soon. When asked how he would prepare in the event he was called up this season Tovar replied.

"I'm just going to keep playing the same way because it's almost the same game, just a little bit quicker. I'm going to try to make routine plays, draw walks, and get hits."

Distefano confirmed his belief in Tovar's ability.

"In my eyes he's definitely a good major league prospect. His work ethic is outstanding. He's a self motivator and he's fun to watch."

With continued progression we may have the opportunity to watch Tovar in the majors soon enough.

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