MLB's 10 Biggest Position-Change Experiments This Spring and If They're Working
Spring training is an opportunity for teams to put new players at new positions. Sometimes, major free-agent signings or offseason trades necessitate that players are moved to different positions if they are all going to fit in the same lineup.
This spring has not been any different, and there are many athletes who are trying to learn a new role. Offensively, the challenges are similar. Hitting the ball is the same no matter where you play in the field, but defensively, there might be major challenges that need to be addressed.
On the mound, transitioning to a different role can certainly cause a major impact. It is an entirely different mindset in the ninth inning than it is when you are starting with a clean slate in the first inning.
Today, I want to look at 10 of these transitions and see how they are going so far. Obviously, spring training is different than the regular season and our sample size might be small. But, at the very least, we will be able to get a rough idea of whether or not these ideas are going to work out well or create liabilities.
Miguel Cabrera: 3rd Base to 1st Base
Miguel Cabrera was never very comfortable at third base, and even though his error total was getting lower every year at the hot corner, he still committed 12 last year. On top of that, he doesn’t have the best range and didn’t get to as many balls as he probably should have.
First base is definitely a better fit for him. So far this spring, he has not committed an error, and that has historically been his best defensive position as well. He still might not be elite, but he is doing a better job at his new position, which means that this was a good move.
Joe Mauer: Catcher to 1st Base
Joe Mauer was always a first baseman in the making. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great catcher, but because of his size, there was no doubt that he would eventually have to move to first base. When the Twins got rid of Justin Morneau, the window was open for Mauer to move to first.
He has only played nine games there this spring, and he has committed one error. That is not too bad, and he is obviously still learning the ropes. I don’t think that the Twins will have to worry very much with him at first base.
Carlos Santana: Catcher to 3rd Base
Carlos Santana has never played a major league game at third base, and the last time he played there was in 2008 when he was in A-ball. His fielding percentage behind the plate has been solid as evidenced by his .991 career average.
That being said, the Indians need a better answer at third base, and Santana might be able to provide the offense necessary at that position if his defense can hold up. So far, he has had a rough time with two errors in 11 games, but he still has time to work it out.
Ryan Braun: Left Field to Right Field
I know that changing from one corner of the outfield to the other doesn’t seem to be that monumental, but there are some subtle differences, and it doesn’t seem as if Ryan Braun is having much trouble so far.
He hasn’t made an error, and even though he doesn’t have any assists yet, that is such a situational statistic that it’s hard to give that one very much relevance.
He does have a decent arm, though, and he should have the range to play right field based on what I have seen of him. This should work out.
David Robertson: Short-Relief Pitcher to Closer
David Robertson has huge shoes to fill. After the retirement of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Robertson will most likely be finishing out games for the New York Yankees this season, and it is hard to tell how he will react.
He has never been a full-time closer at any professional level, and he has yet to get a save this spring. Judging by his success in the bullpen, I doubt the pressure will get to him, but some pitchers have had major difficulties with this transition.
Rafael Furcal: Shortstop to 2nd Base
Rafael Furcal did not play in a single game in 2013, but he is looking to break in again with the Miami Marlins as a second baseman. He has never been an excellent fielder, but he has always had reasonable range and a strong arm.
So far this spring, he has not committed an error at second base, so that is definitely a step in the right direction. Obviously, it has only been seven games, so it doesn’t mean a whole lot yet. However, it seems as if he is moderately comfortable over there.
Matt Carpenter: 2nd Base to 3rd Base
This one is not as much of an experiment because Matt Carpenter has traditionally been a third baseman. Last year, he made the transition to second, and now he is coming back to his normal position.
Traditionally, he has been a decent fielder, and that pretty much sums up how he has been so far this year. He has done his job, and he has only made one error. It’s not surprising. At least he is not transitioning to something that is entirely foreign.
Tommy Hunter: Relief Pitcher to Closer
Tommy Hunter has a slightly inflated ERA right now thanks to two solo home runs in four innings of work, but outside of those two mistakes, opponents are only hitting .214 against him, so that is a good sign as he attempts to make this transition.
The ultimate decision is seemingly still up in the air, but Tommy Hunter has been doing a decent job so far and should hopefully be able to control the long ball a little bit better. If he can do that, he definitely looks like closer material.
Dustin Ackley: 2nd Base/Center Field to Left Field
Dustin Ackley spent substantial time at second base and in center field last season, but now it is looking like he will be moving to a corner outfield position. He did play 11 games in left last season, and he didn’t commit an error.
He has been perfect there so far this spring as well. Left field is probably not as demanding as second base was, and he was expected to be a good prospect at that position. Defensively, he seems to be adjusting fine, and now we are just waiting for him to hit like we know he can.
Curtis Granderson: Center Field to Right Field
Curtis Granderson has spent most of his career as a center fielder, but last year he spent an almost even number of games at each of the three outfield positions for the New York Yankees. This spring, he has played every game in right field for the New York Mets.
He hasn’t made an error, and he has one assist so far. He is obviously getting older and perhaps is losing a bit of range, but he is still a more-than-capable right fielder at this point.