Steven Leyton the big man in Hops infield
HILLSBORO — Young athletes often design their game after a role model, and Hillsboro Hops middle infielder Steven Leyton is no exception.
Leyton admires Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros second baseman and 2017 World Series champion.
Altuve, a six-time All Star, is one of MLB's most well-rounded and well-decorated players. He's been the American League MVP. He's won a Gold Glove and earned five Silver Sluggers, a Hank Aaron Award and two stolen base titles. For the type of player Leyton wants to be, he couldn't have picked someone better.
Leyton, a 20-year-old from Leon, Nicaragua, is using his great defense and clutch hitting to help the Hops win games this summer and help him in his quest to become the 16th player from his home country to make the major leagues.
Hillsboro first base coach Chuy Mendoza said Leyton has exceeded his expectations. Mendoza cites Leyton's consistency, intensity and perseverance as reasons why he is "a tremendous piece on the team."
Leyton, who at 5-10 is 4 inches taller than Altuve, is in his fourth professional season since being drafted as an international free agent in January 2016.
The 170-pounder was batting .268 for the Hops through Monday, with four home runs, two triples and seven doubles in 149 at-bats. He also had just five errors in 337.1 innings at shortstop and second base.
"He's like a guru in the middle infield," Hillsboro outfielder Kristian Robinson said. "Anytime the ball is hit around him, I know he's going to catch it or knock it down. He's a little guy, but he's a big man in our clubhouse and on the field. He has a big presence on the diamond, defensively and offensively."
The July 20-22 must-win series against the Eugene Emeralds perfectly showcased the variety of ways in which Leyton can impact a game. If the Hops had lost one of those games, they would have been eliminated from the Single-A Northwest League South Division first-half title race.
Leyton elevated his play, coming up with winning hits and game-saving plays in the field.
"There's always a chance to give the team a chance to win," Leyton said via a translator. "It doesn't just have to be offensively. It can be an outstanding play which can end the game."
In the first game of the series, a 2-1 Hillsboro victory, Leyton saved two runs when he made a diving catch over his shoulder with two runners on base for the final out of the third inning.
The next day, Leyton stepped to the plate with the Hops trailing 2-0 and being no-hit by Eugene starting pitcher Zach Mort in the seventh inning. Knowing he couldn't tie the game with one swing, Leyton fought off a couple tough pitches to work a one-out walk.
One pitch later, he showed his speed by reaching third on Jesus Marriaga's single to left field. Leyton and Marriaga went on to score and tie the game.
In the eighth, the patient Leyton came up again, with David Garza Jr. on second base and one out. On a 1-1 count, the right-handed batter lined a low fastball to right field to give his team the lead. The Hops went to win and stay alive in a division race they eventually lost by two games to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
"He's a gamer," Hillsboro manager Javier Colina said of Leyton. "He does something special every night to help the team win. It's good to see that kind of player on your team.
"For some reason, when the game is on the line, he's one of the guys."
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