If Alexis Pantoja’s All-Star smile looks eerily similar to a former RubberDucks shortstop and current standout for the Indians, it’s for good reason.
If his glovework and hitting show hints of the most popular athlete for the Tribe, well, that’s all part of the plan as well.
The 2014 draft pick born in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, just happens to live with Francisco Lindor and has modeled his game at every level after the three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and one-time Gold Glove winner from his home island.
“I always smile because I love the game,” Pantoja said. “I love to be happy. I love all my boys and want them to be happy and enjoy the game.
“Lindor has taught me a lot of things, especially to be happy and enjoy the game. It’s a blessing to play the game. He’s taught me to always smile. If I’ve had a bad day, he tells me, ‘Today was a bad day. Tomorrow is another day. Keep the smile and keep enjoying the game.’ ”
That advice has worked wonders for the 23-year-old, who got to know Lindor when Pantoja was taken in the ninth round out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School in Juncos five years ago.
Pantoja entered Tuesday’s action against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at Canal Park batting .311 with a .380 on-base percentage and .847 OPS.
He has registered at least one hit in eight of the 14 games in which he has played and has only two errors in 46 chances with the Ducks at second, shortstop and third base combined.
“Francisco has taught me a lot about hitting and how you go about the game,” Pantoja said. “I watch video of him when I go home. He’s taught me how to be quicker to the ball. Everything he says, I soak in. He’s been a help to me in working on the game. He’s not a different guy to me. He has more talent than I have. I keep in the good things he tells me and practice on them.”
Like Lindor with the parent club, Pantoja’s energy permeates throughout the entire team.
Although the Ducks have struggled to a 7-10 start, they’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff thanks to Pantoja, who never lets the game become bigger than it is.
“When I don’t hear him, I think he’s sick or something,” RubberDucks manager Rouglas Odor said. “I ask if he’s OK because I don’t hear him. He’s energetic with a positive attitude. He’s the type of kid you like to hang around because all he does is keep everyone loose. He’s got a big smile on his face. It’s always nice to have that type of player. I love to have him in the dugout and clubhouse.”
More than just a great team player, Pantoja brings experience and know-how at the Eastern League level.
Although he only logged just 79 at-bats and batted .190 in 24 games last season, the value he picked up from playing in Akron has paid off this season.
“Last year, coming here and seeing how the Double A is played, showed me difference stuff,” Pantoja said. “Baseball is quicker here than in high A.”
It has also helped him fit in on a club full of veterans.
“He knows the clubhouse and some of the fields,” Odor said. “He knows some of his teammates. It’s always nice when you’re not new to the ballclub. It’s a huge help for anybody.”