When Jorge Bonifacio grew up playing baseball in the Dominican Republic, he’d only ever wanted to be like his older brother Emilio.
He played second base like him, tried to run as fast him. Emilio Bonifacio had joined the Arizona Diamondbacks organization when he was eligible to sign at 16. Eight years Emilio’s junior, Jorge Bonifacio didn’t need to look far for someone to model his game after.
But about a year away from beginning his gantlet of major-league tryouts, Bonifacio’s agent sat him down, looked the 15-year-old in the eye and shattered the illusion he’d created for himself.
“My agent told me, ‘You’re different. You can’t do what he does. You won’t play the same game as him,’ ” said Bonifacio of Emilio, a 32-year-old utility man with the Atlanta Braves who played for the Royals during 2013. “I knew I had to make that change.”
Some eight years later, the switch to the outfield and a focus on strength has allowed Bonifacio, 23, to come into his own as a highly-regarded prospect. He’s got a right-handed power stroke that Kauffman Stadium visitors saw Monday night, when his two-run, 434-foot bomb to left field keyed the end to the Royals’ nine-game losing streak.
After Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to the White Sox, Bonifacio had gone 4 for 13 at home and hit .300 (9 for 30) since debuting on April 21 in Texas. Although he’s made a few miscues in right field, Bonifacio has filled in admirably for the injured Jorge Soler.
But he’s still a ways away from losing the “Emilio’s younger brother” qualifier.
When Bonifacio played in Kansas City for the first time Friday, one of the first questions reporters threw his way before the game asked him to compare himself to the former Royal. He handled it with grace, having answered those questions since the day he popped up on scouts’ radars as a teenager.
Until the day comes when he can shake it, Bonifacio will happily oblige the comparisons.
“I wouldn’t feel bad if people continued to ask me (about him) because he’s my brother and he’s helped me a lot, thank God, in my career and in what I’ve become,” Bonifacio said. “But I hope one day they say Jorge Bonifacio, not, ‘Oh look, that’s Emilio’s brother.’ ”