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Torres makes big splash with team



Published: Sun, September 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Eider Torres is 19 years old. He stands 5 feet, 8 inches and weighs 140 pounds. And he doesn't speak English. So, there's no way he can succeed in professional baseball in the United States, right?

Think again.

The Cleveland Indians say Torres, a native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, is one of their brightest minor league prospects. The middle infielder is proving them right.

Since joining the Mahoning Valley Scrappers three weeks ago from Rookie-League Burlington (N.C.), Torres has been impressive. His presence in the lineup has helped the Scrappers keep pace in the New York-Penn League playoff race.

After hitting a combined .361 in two seasons in the Venezuelan League, including .398 in 216 at-bats last year, Torres came to the United States this year and didn't disappoint.

"I'm very excited, very thankful that I have the ability to play," said Torres, through interpreter and Scrappers trainer Michael Salazar, in a phone interview this week from Auburn, N.Y. "I owe a lot to my parents for my upbringing and a chance to play here," Torres said. "I learned about education, morals and beliefs [from them]."

Began in Venezuela

Torres was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 and began playing in the Venezuelan League.

"I always wanted to come over to play," Torres said. "I had the opportunity [with the Indians] when I was 17, and that's when I really tried harder."

His numbers in Venezuela showed that it was time for the Indians to make a move. Torres discovered the difference in talent level right away.

"There's more competition here in the U.S., a lot better ball players," Torres said.

That hasn't stopped Torres from having his way -- at the plate and on the bases. Going into the weekend, he was batting .333 in 69 at-bats with the Scrappers.

Once on base, Torres is a threat to steal. He stole 60 bases in Venezuela, 28 in 31 attempts at Burlington and is 9 of 14 with the Scrappers.

Torres calls his speed "natural" and is "thankful that God gave me the ability to play hard."

Torres played second base at Burlington and has been moved to shortstop at Mahoning Valley. Shortstop is where he envisions himself playing in the future.

"I need to mature in the game," Torres said. "I have to prepare myself mentally and do the little things that will make me better."

One of which is learning English, something Torres knows will help him adjust to the U.S.

"Back home I have family and friends, and baseball is not as intense as in the United States," Torres said. "It's harder for me here because of the language barrier."

After the season, Torres plans to play winter ball in Venezuela while continuing to impress Indians officials. He's already off to a fast start.

richesson@vindy.com




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