FRISCO, Texas—Alex Yarbrough looks quite comfortable playing second base, and he should be.
That’s where the Angels’ prospect, ranked No. 8 at the start of the season, has been playing for most of the past eight seasons.
Offensively, Yarbrough, a fourth-round pick in 2012 currently at Double-A Arkansas, was leading the Texas League in RBIs (48), hits (102), doubles (30) and total bases (147) through 86 games.
His defense has been equally impressive as he has committed just six errors in 345 chances. Those numbers shouldn’t be surprising considering he has been playing second since 2006, except for spending his junior and senior years at Allen (Texas) High at shortstop.
Angels’ minor league field coordinator Mike Micucci says the two seasons Yarbrough played short helped him become a better second baseman.
“He’s very good at the mental part of being out on defense,” Micucci said. “He’s a leader out there. Just because he doesn’t play shortstop, he kind of acts like a shortstop playing second base.”
Given the success he’s had to date at second along with the high comfort level and leadership he brings to the middle infield with the Travelers, the notion of him changing positions anytime soon is unfathomable.
“No, I haven’t talked to anybody and it hasn’t come up in passing conversations about moving,” Yarbrough said. “I’ve been a second baseman since I was drafted and until they tell me otherwise, that’s all I’m going to focus on.”
A Manageable Total
In 136 games last season at high Class A Inland Empire, Yarbrough committed 10 errors in 563 chances. This season, Yarbrough is on pace to commit a few more miscues than he did in the California League last season, but Micucci isn’t too concerned.
“I think we looked up last year and most of the errors were throwing,” Micucci said. “I’ve got to think there’s probably two or three in there that are routine plays that he just kicked, that normal guys kick. I don’t think there’s a trend in one thing.”
Yarbrough also isn’t worried about his error total, saying that errors are simply part of the game and never completely avoidable. One of his flubs earlier this year came because he held on to the ball too long in a double play situation, but he sees that as an isolated incident.
“I guess I’ve got a few just on some routine balls and just kind of balls with weird spin on them that are right at me,” he said. “I’m happy with making the tough ones. Errors happen. They happen to everybody at every level. Hopefully you try and cut down on those as much as possible.
Getting In Sync
Despite his high comfort level at second, Yarbrough remains coachable because he realizes that there are plenty of defensive aspects of the position he can still improve on. One specific thing he has been working on is improving his footwork so his feet and his arm are in sync, which will result in much crisper and quicker throws to any base.
“His arm was a little bit longer when he first came in, had a little bit longer stroke, so the problem that he first ran into was his feet didn’t really match what his arm was doing, which caused a few issues. So, (we worked on) getting his footwork to do the same thing all the time and then shortening up his arm stroke to get both parts of his body synced up so his accuracy became much better,” Micucci said.
Improving Yarbrough’s footwork has done exactly that—made him more accurate on his throws to every base—especially benefiting him in double-play situations.
Micucci has clearly been pleased with the progress that his young second baseman has made in those areas.
“I’ve seen him play 12 or 13 times so far this year and I’ve seen him make double play turns on balls that he didn’t make last year. He’s at a higher level. The speed of the game’s a little bit faster and he seems to be touching up very nicely,” Micucci said.
Yarbrough credits Micucci, now in his second season as the Angels’ field coordinator, for his continuing progression in the field. It’s a relationship which dates back to late 2012 when Micucci was managing Arkansas, where Yarbrough spent the final five games of his first season in professional baseball.
“He’s always there to work with me. He’s been great. He’ll come out for early work and then out before games and tell me what he sees and gives me updates. He’s been one of the guys that has worked with me the most on turning the double play since I got drafted,” Yarbrough said. “He’s been there the whole way through and he’s been outstanding with helping me with what I need.”
It’s clear the Angels have no current plans to move Yarbrough from what looks to be his most natural position. But as Micucci puts it, it’s hard to tell what the future might bring and the possibility of a move could remain well into the future.
“Yeah, I don’t think anybody really knows the actual future of what’s going to transpire as this thing goes on. But we are fully invested in leaving him at second base to develop his skill set there,” Micucci said. “Based on the progress that he’s made over the first couple years just being in professional baseball, we feel pretty comfortable with the direction in which he’s headed.”
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas