Everett AquaSox infielder Cesar Izturis Jr. has met several baseball legends in his young life. From Alex Rodriguez to David Ortiz to Albert Pujols to Vladimir Guerrero, he has conversed with some of the premier talents of the 21st century.
But to the 19-year-old, none of them compare to a 13-year major-league journeyman.
And for good reason. That player is his father, Cesar Izturis. The elder Izturis played for nine different big-league teams from 2001-13 and his son idolized him along the way, tagging along with his dad to the clubhouse whenever he could.
“He always wanted me to go to the stadium and hang out with him,” Izturis Jr. said. “My dad is my hero. He’s someone that I look up to everyday. Someday I want to be like him. Or better.”
Although Izturis was more of a baseball nomad than a franchise cornerstone, that’s still a lofty goal for Izturis Jr. His father was a career .254 hitter who played primarily shortstop, where he racked up 13.2 defensive WAR — Wins Above Replacement — over his career.
In his brief pro career, Izturis Jr. has shown the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He’s a .246 hitter over three minor-league seasons, but has displayed strong defensive abilities at shortstop.
“Obviously he’s a guy that can really defend in the middle of the diamond and those guys don’t grow on trees,” Mariners director of player development Andy McKay said. “He’s going to play for a long time with that skill alone and right now our focus is really on his body and getting him as strong as we can and getting some weight on him throughout a long season, because we feel really confident he can play shortstop.”
With strength may come more success at the plate. Izturis Jr. owns a .233/.307/.278 slash line in 27 games with the AquaSox after hitting just .215 in 38 games with Low-A West Virginia this season.
While the strength is expected to come with maturation, the AquaSox are working on refining his approach at the plate.
“He loves to play, he loves to hit, he wants to hit and he wants to be the guy every at-bat, but sometimes he feels the only way he can be the guy is to get a hit, which causes our players to swing at pitches that they shouldn’t be trying to hit,” Everett hitting coach Joe Thurston said. “Not every pitch is designed for you to hit. It’s trying to get him to understand what type of role you have on this team and he’s more of a table-setter type of guy, where he’s going to be getting on base for the table clearers. He’s not going to be a middle-of-the-order, table-clearer type of guy. We just need him to understand what he is, control the zone and swing at pitches he should be swinging at.”
One of Izturis Jr.’s assets on the AquaSox is his personality. He was described as a locker room favorite by McKay. On long bus rides or in the clubhouse before games, there’s a decent chance Izturis Jr. is blasting the latest hit song from Latin America, organizing a card game or simply just conversing with his fellow teammates.
“He’s an infectious kid,” said Carson Vitale, who is serving as the AquaSox manager after the departure this week of Jose Moreno. “He has a bright future ahead of him. He’s someone you genuinely like being around and that means a lot to a clubhouse.”
It’s something that comes naturally to Izturis Jr.
“I was born with that, you know. I think it’s been in my blood,” he said. “It’s passion, it’s the love … of baseball. I can spend 24 hours on the field and just take ground balls.”
That insatiable passion for the game was developed in Izturis Jr.’s early years while growing up in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. When Izturis Jr. was 7, and his father played part of the 2006 season for the Chicago Cubs and he moved to the Windy City.
Izturis Jr. traveled all around the country with his father during the ensuing summers. The youngster reveled in American culture and was bilingual — English and Spanish — by a young age.
But Izturis Jr. moved back to Venezuela before starting high school in the United States in order to sign as an international free agent and start his professional career sooner.
Emilio Carrasquel, a long-time Venezuelan scout for the Mariners who’s most famously signed Felix Hernandez, discovered Izturis Jr. in 2015 and invited him to a showcase in the Dominicans Republic to put him in front of the Mariners’ brass.
When the 2016 international scouting period began, Seattle signed the 16-year-old Izturis Jr. to a contract, 20 years after his father was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996.
The Mariners’ organization fits Izturis Jr. like, well, a glove.
“It’s been perfect. I mean, this team, this franchise is more than family, ” Izturis Jr. said. “We talk more about trusting the process. It’s been very great. … I love it here.”
Izturis hit .269/.331/.305 in his first professional season for the Mariners’ Dominican Summer League team in 2017. He appeared in five games for Triple-A Tacoma and one game each for Double-A Arkansas and Everett last year, but spent most of his first season stateside with the Mariners’ affiliate in the Arizona League, where he hit .245/.304/.298.
Izturis Jr. started the 2019 season at West Virginia, where he struggled at the plate but said he learned a lot defensively under manager Dave Berg, a former major-league infielder with the Marlins and Blue Jays. Izturis Jr. also has worked extensively this year with Vitale and Perry Hill, the Mariners’ infield coach.
Of course, no advice he receives trumps his father’s.
During their nightly conversations, the eldest Izturis routinely poses a question: “What did you learn today?”
Those thought-provoking conversations are often the highlight of Izturis Jr.’s game days.
“He’s my best friend, he’s my dad, he’s my hero, he’s my coach,” Izturis Jr. said. “He’s been everything to me.”