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Defense is Bartolone

Defense is Bartolone
April 20, 2011
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(Photo: Tony Lastoria)
Indians infielder Nick Bartolone may be small in stature, but he’s big on defense.

Bartolone, 20, is small and scrawny at 5’10 and 153 pounds, which because of his small size and look has earned him the nickname of “Rango” from his teammates. No, it is not a nickname given because of his outstanding range at shortstop (though would be just as fitting), but because of his likeness to the lizard-like cartoon character in the new movie out in theaters this spring.

Whether Bartolone is a defensive wizard or defensive lizard, it certainly is his calling card. He is a slick fielding athletic shortstop who has very good baseball instincts and a good arm. He is a tough, gritty player who is not afraid to get dirty and he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to his play.

Bartolone understands what he does best and at the same time knows the limitations he has as a player. He is still very green to the pro game, but has already carved himself a niche as a defensive specialist, something that is of great value to any team.

“I think that is part of my advantage as I know my strengths and weaknesses, so I am not going to try and play to my weaknesses to be a player I am not,” said Bartolone in a recent interview. “I know I am viewed as a defensive guy, and that’s fine as I love defense. I love having pitchers be able to trust me when they need a big out. Even if I am not well known for hitting and just put up good numbers, if I am a good defensive guy I think I can keep going up through the ranks.”

While Bartolone has almost exclusively played shortstop from high school all the way to the pro ranks, he will probably at some point need to be able to prove he can play other infield positions as he moves up the minor league ranks. Given his athleticism, strong arm, and natural instincts as an infielder, he should have little problem playing second base or third base if the Indians decide to move him there or use him more as a utility player down the road.

“Through college I played only short and in high school I only played short,” said Bartolone. “I played a little bit of second base in summer ball going into junior college a year and a half ago. In Instructional League I got some looks at second. Even in the Arizona League last year I played some third, which was really new for me. I feel like I can play anywhere. Getting looks at other positions I think will help me learn and make me a better player.”

That all said right now the Indians’ primary focus is on developing Bartolone as a starting shortstop. The decisions on a role change or position switch can be made later.

“We will see what happens,” said Bartolone. “I am not going to jump to conclusions and say I only want to play short. Wherever they want me that’s where I will play and get my reps and make the most of my opportunities.”

While defense is Bartolone’s hallmark, his hitting is his biggest weakness and something he knows he needs to hone in on. He actually had a solid pro debut last year splitting time between rookie level Arizona and short season Single-A Mahoning Valley hitting ..283 with 0 HR, 16 RBI, and 23 stolen bases in 56 games.

“I am glad I got a lot of games in last season to kind of get it under my belt and get the experience down with how everything works,” said Bartolone. “I am a lot more comfortable [going into the season] this year because I know what to expect.”

Bartolone has almost no power at the plate, but shows a good approach, makes consistent contact, and has above average speed. His focus coming into the season was on his hitting, and is something he hopes he can show some significant strides in by the end of the season.

“I mostly worked on my hitting [in the offseason] as it was one of the things we talked about in Instructs,” said Bartolone. “The main focus for me is to use my legs and just keeping everything really quiet. I spent a lot of time in the weight room, not necessarily to get bigger per se, but just to add some strength which I was pretty successful with as I am a little stronger this year.”

Bartolone knows that his development as a hitter is the key to him having a long professional career and ultimately reaching the big leagues.

“I feel like hitting is the key,” said Bartolone. “They look at me as being more of a defensive player as it is something I have always been mindful of and it comes a little easier to me. This season I just want to stay consistent [at the plate]. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t get too high or too low. Just kind of be a solid player the whole year. Obviously you will get hot at times or you will slump at times, but I just can’t let it affect the [rest of my game]. I just want to produce and be an on-base guy, score a lot of runs, and just hold it down on defense.”

Bartolone was the Indians’ sixth round draft pick last year out of Chabot College, a junior college located in north-central California. He was a mystery man in the early part of the Indians’ draft as when the pick was announced a lot of people did not know what to think since he was a complete unknown as all major draft publications had nothing written about him, which is unusual for a top ten round pick.

Bartolone may not have had a lot of hype going into the draft, but the only thing that mattered to the Indians was what their scouts think of the talent available in the draft, and when area scout Don Lyle gave Indians Amateur Scouting Director Brad Grant a glowing endorsement, Grant did not hesitate to select Bartolone with their sixth round pick.

“Coming out of high school I was very undersized, even more than I am now,” said Bartolone. “I was just a low key player. Chabot has always been known for their program, and they have a lot of guys who go on to four year schools and a couple guys get drafted. It was kind of an easier decision for me to go the junior college route as I went there, developed, learned a lot of things, got some experience, and turned into a player that was able to get drafted.”

Bartolone is proof that diamonds can be unearthed almost anywhere, even from a relatively unknown junior college in Hayward, California. If you can play, the scouts will find you.

“It is kind of weird how it worked out,” said Bartolone. “I didn’t speak to one scout through high school, but the fall going into my second year in Chabot it all started happening. It was cool and I am happy.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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