PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Luis Guillorme’s immense defensive ability — Gold Glove-caliber, some say — can be traced back to a carjacking at gunpoint in Caracas, Venezuela, more than a decade and a half ago.
No, really. Stick with this one.
Guillorme, a Mets infield prospect with perhaps the best hands in the minors, was born in the Venezuelan capital (not Davie, Fla., as is listed on the Mets’ website and other places). His family’s neighborhood, like so many others, was a poor one. After one family gathering around the turn of the century, Guillorme’s teenage cousin and sleeping toddler brother were stopped on their way home by a pair of strangers, who put a gun to the cousin’s head and hopped in. The thieves, keeping the car, eventually dumped them a few blocks from the Guillorme residence.
That was the harshest in a series of illustrative incidents that led the Guillorme parents to a tough conclusion: They did not want their children, Luis and Samuel, playing outside.
“I had no business being outside by myself,” Luis Guillorme said. “You can be outside and somebody can rob you for a pair of shoes. If you have something nice over there, you can get in trouble for that. So you’d rather stay inside.”
And so Guillorme, a sports-obsessed elementary schooler described by his father as “full of energy — all day,” found an alternative that could double as any parent’s nightmare: playing ball in the house.
Luis Guillorme Sr. knocked down a wall to turn two rooms into one large one. With a little imagination, Luis Jr. turned it into his personal defense experimentation zone. He’d get whatever balls he could — baseballs, tennis balls, racquetballs — and entertain himself for hours while unknowingly building his now-incredible hand-eye coordination.
“Kids here have a little playroom with toys and stuff,” Guillorme said. “I had an empty room with nothing in it but a ball and a glove.
“They would have rather me play in the house and break something than go outside.”
Guillorme made up his own games/drills. Throw it off the wall, catch it. Throw it off three walls, catch it at an odd angle. Throw it off the ground and low off the wall, catch it over his shoulder.
When Guillorme’s friends came over, they knew it meant spending a good portion of their hangout hours jumping into a couch, which served as a cushion for diving plays. Other than that — and the dents that pockmarked the walls — the room was barren.
“We tried to buy some furniture, but at the end, we left it like that,” Luis Sr. said.
Modeling himself after Omar Vizuel, his fellow Caracas-born shortstop, Guillorme spent most of his free time working on his hands. For three or four hours per night, from post-homework until bedtime, it was all about this big empty playroom.
“Till my mom said no more,” Luis Jr. said. “That was pretty much my daily thing.”
As conditions in Venezuela worsened, the Guillormes abandoned their home country in 2007 for South Florida, settling in Davie, where they still reside, driving distance from First Data Field. Luis Jr. lost his defensive arena, but among the family’s first U.S. purchases was a batting cage for their new backyard.
Now Guillorme is on the cusp of the majors, ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas to open the year. He impressed in major-league camp this spring with a .306/.447/.417 slash line — his bat, while showing improvement, lags behind his elite defense — and his usual impressive glovework, albeit with three errors.
“He’s really good in the field,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Fundamentals are going to be huge for him on defense. It’s good to make the flashy plays, and he’s got the talent to be able to make those really hard plays. It’s going to come down to making the solid, everyday, routine play. If he can do that, he’s going to be valuable.”
Guillorme is a shortstop by trade, but with Amed Rosario playing that position for the Mets, Guillorme has seen time at second and third as well. MLB Pipeline, which ranks Guillorme as the No. 10 prospect in the Mets’ system, says at second Guillorme could be an 80-grade defender, the highest possible mark on the 20-80 scale.
And that is thanks in part, father and son believe, to the work put in during his Caracas childhood.
“The hands I have, it’s a gift,” Luis Jr. said. “You can make your hands better, but at one point it’s going to be as good as they get. I think I just got a gift that my hands could work and got better as time went by and the extra work I did paid off.”