Baseball

As the little guy, Paez tries to come up big for Fireflies

Fireflies second baseman Michael Paez (3) watches a long fly ball during a recent game.
Fireflies second baseman Michael Paez (3) watches a long fly ball during a recent game. tdominick@thestate.com

Michael Paez always has something to prove.

That’s what happens when you are the little guy on the team hearing you won’t make it big. But Paez has done a good job at silencing his critics. The Florida native went from a relative unknown coming out of high school in Miami to a fourth-round draft pick by the New York Mets last season.

Paez is in his first full season in the minors as the second baseman for the Columbia Fireflies.

“You don’t see a lot of 5-7 players out there,” said Paez, who is listed at 5-foot-8 but is closer to 5-7. “I’m always out here and always will be the smallest guy on the field. That chip will always stay on your shoulder even if you make it to the big leagues. Because you want to then be an all-star or be a hall of famer. There is always something you are trying to prove to someone. I don’t think that is ever going to stop for me.”

Paez has heard all the short jokes that go along with it. At Coastal Carolina, he remembers playing a road game and someone asking him if he was the Chanticleers’ bat boy.

But Paez gets inspiration from watching major leaguers like Houston second baseman Jose Altuve. The 5-foot-5 Altuve is a four-time All-Star and one of the most exciting players in the game.

Paez is the smallest player listed in the Mets’ minor league organization. Former Gamecock Marcus Mooney and Anthony Marks, a Paez teammate at Coastal, are the other players listed as small as him in the South Atlantic League.

Paez wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of the Miami area, which is a hotbed for baseball talent. Hometown schools such as Miami and Florida International passed on him coming out of Miami Sunset Senior High School, where he was a four-year starter and all-Miami-Dade County selection his senior year.

So, Paez ended up at CCU, which he said was the best decision for him.

“Me leaving the state has helped get me to this point,” Paez said. “They believed in me. I went to a camp and played well. For them to give me a scholarship, I had to prove that it was worth it. They got a player they knew was going to play 100 percent every day.”

After struggling his freshman year, Paez blossomed his final two seasons at CCU and played a key role in helping the Chanticleers on their run to the national championship last season.

Paez hit .276 with 15 homers and 52 RBI and delivered the game-winning hit to beat LSU in the Super Regional to punch CCU’s ticket to the College World Series. The Chanticleers won five elimination games on their way to the first championship in school history.

“That group of guys is something you will have forever. I think we played almost every game possible in the college season,” Paez said. “We didn’t want to leave each other. We knew that would be the last time we would be on the field together at the same time. We would spend as long as we could with each other before going to the field. On the field, we would play for each other and the coaches. It was like a big brotherhood at Coastal. We still don’t believe it happened.”

Paez remains close with his CCU teammates and they have have an ongoing group chat. Some of them attended his wedding in January and they all gathered back at CCU to get their rings in February.

Paez has had his ups and downs so far in the minors. He hit just .190 last year at shortseason Brooklyn. Through 12 games for the Fireflies, he is batting .225 with a homer (on opening day) and nine RBI.

“At Brooklyn, I was up and down attitude wise because I have never struggled before,” Paez said. “Now, you’ve got to take every at-bat and don’t throw any away. Even though I have a low batting average, I feel like I have been consistent in my swing, so they are bound to fall someday.”

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