I’m not exactly Brad Pitt, so I hesitate to critique another man’s physique, but Juan Carlos Linares does not look like a professional athlete.
The PawSox outfielder is listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds but looks shorter and heavier.
Until you see him in action. Then he looks like a legitimate big league prospect.
On Thursday night, the 26-year-old from Havana, Cuba drilled a 400-foot triple off of the center field wall to drive in both Pawtucket runs in a season-opening 2-1 win over Rochester. That followed an eye-opening performance in Boston’s major league spring training camp in which Linares batted .320 in 13 games.
“The more we see him, the more we like him,” said Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator Victor Rodriquez. “It’s a pleasure watching him play every day because he gives you all he’s got. You look at him and you don’t see an athlete. But when he’s on the field, he runs well, he’s got a good arm, and he’s got some line-drive power.”
“I don’t know if they penciled him in for Triple-A right away but he earned it,” said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis. “I think he’s going to be an exciting player to watch. I see a huge amount of love for the game in him. You look at the body and think that he can’t really run, but they stuck him in center field in big league camp and he got to some balls where I said, ‘How the heck did he get over there?’ He’s a very hard worker and it’s going to pay off for him.”
After playing professionally for minimal pay for eight years in Cuba – a reported $8 a month – Linares escaped the island by boat and established residency in Mexico before signing as an international free agent with Boston last July. After batting .246 in 17 minor league games late in the season, Linares was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he ranked 2nd in the league in batting (.397) and 4th in slugging percentage (.662).
“He had a really good fall league and he’s a very intriguing player,” said Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen. “He plays all three outfield positions well, he’s got a good swing, and we want to see what we’ve got at Pawtucket. It will be a challenge for him early on, but he is an older kid and he’s played professionally in Cuba for a long time and he’s a pretty intriguing player. Being a right-handed hitter is a big asset for him and in the small window of opportunity that he’s had, he’s performed. This will be a good test for him and we’re excited to see him play.”
Linares, who requested to go by the initials “J.C.” instead of Juan Carlos, gives the PawSox a “Cuban Connection” along with 21-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias who went 2-for-3 in his Triple-A debut.
“Linares is a great player,” Iglesias told me. “It’s difficult for anybody when you come from a different culture, but he understands what he has to do. He’s did a good job this spring and I’m very excited about him.”
Iglesias and Linares were teammates previously on the Cuban National Team, but as it turns out, that was not J.C.’s only connection to the Red Sox organization.
“A few years ago, my son was on an All-Star team from Miami that played in a tournament in Italy and while they were there, they played Team Cuba,” said Victor Rodriquez. “Linares was on that team and my son ended up giving him some batting gloves and bats. In return, Linares gave my son his uniform. This year in spring training, Juan Carlos came to my house and I showed him the Cuban uniform with his name and number. He was pretty excited. You know what? That shows you that the world is small.”
So is Linares. But don’t let it fool you.
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