PHOENIX—Grant Green thought that he’d always be a shortstop. The role defined the Athletics prospect, now back for his second season with the Arizona Fall League’s Phoenix Desert Dogs.
When meeting people for the first time, he always told them he was a shortstop.
Green made his second straight appearance last July as one of two shortstops on the United States team in the annual Futures Game, this time earning MVP honors after hitting two doubles to lead the U.S. team to a 6-4 win over the World team.
The 13th overall pick in the 2009 draft was just midway through his third year in the A’s organization when the word came down from the Oakland front office that he would no longer be a shortstop—instead, Green would be moving to center field.
The news came as a surprise to the former University of Southern California star, who had virtually no outfield experience at any time in his baseball career.
“They told me that this was the quickest way for me to get there (to the major leagues),” Green said, “the best position for me athletically and with the bat and glove-wise . . . if that’s what they truly believe and are wholeheartedly with it, then let’s roll with it.”
Switching in mid-season required a lot of on-the-job training for Green. He played center field in his last 47 games of the Double-A season, followed by a few games in right field for Triple-A Sacramento during the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Green has returned to the Fall League to gain more experience in the outfield. He’s got a friendly face to help his transition with Sacramento hitting coach Todd Steverson managing the Desert Dogs this year.
“The organization decided to make a move,” said Steverson, “and it’s up to us in player development to help him make the move.”
Scouts following the AFL currently grade Green’s outfield skills as below average, not surprising considering his lack of experience there.
Steverson puts it more diplomatically, saying, “So far his progress is early in the stages . . . The majority of the work is happening right now in batting practice and just in regular work.”
Green acknowledges that he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.
“(I’m) definitely not feeling as comfortable as I’d like to be,” Green said. “What I feel I really need to do is work on those jumps. It’s a little bit different . . . first step back as compared to the first step in as an infielder . . . seeing the ball off the bat and getting the angles down on pop flies.”
Steverson, who went through a similar conversion during his playing career in moving from his natural third base position to the outfield, says that shifting to the outfield is tougher than it seems.
“It is a switch,” Steverson said. “A lot of people think the ball goes up, you catch it, and throw it back to the infield. But the reality of it is when an outfielder makes a mistake, it’s a lot more glaring then when an infielder makes a mistake because the ball ends up at the wall and that’s an extra base. So the reads on the balls are key . . . In the outfield the ball takes a little longer to get to you so you have a little more read time. But the feet have to work just as fast.”
Green is eager to learn the new position and has been seeking help from other sources. Hall of Famer Ricky Henderson observed one of Green’s games after the position switch and offered welcome advice on going after balls over his head. Since arriving in Arizona, he’s also discussed defensive situations with fellow Desert Dog outfielder Anthony Gose, a fellow Southern California native and a top prospect in the Blue Jays organization.
He’s applying some of the same techniques he used as an infielder to keep his mind in the game and his instincts sharp.
“With every ball hit, even if it’s foul, I’m moving towards the ball to keep my mind fresh, keep the legs moving a little bit,” Green said. “On a ball hit to third base, I still kind of go over that way even if it’s one or two steps, still treat it as somewhat of an infield position but just in the outfield.”
As Green becomes more comfortable in the outfield and the mental demands of the position become less stressful, the question comes up as to whether this move can help him develop faster as a hitter.
“I think he can hit regardless,” Steverson said. “The boy has a knack for putting the bat on the baseball. He’s proven it in his first couple of years as a professional player.”
Indeed, Green has hit .304/.353/.463 as a pro in 1,097 at-bats, though his power fell off from 20 homers in 2010 at high Class A Stockton to nine with Double-A Midland. While learning to play the outfield is Green’s primary goal for the AFL season, he’s also working with Steverson to improve his approach at the plate.
“We’ve widened out my stance dramatically,” Green said, “to get a little bit more load into my approach and get a little more power.”
Green is more than willing to put in the extra work to improve in all facets of the game. It’s a lesson he learned from watching players like Cliff Pennington, Mark Ellis and Kurt Suzuki during his time in big league spring training camp.
“Not only was their work effort extreme,” Green said, “but it was the fact that they get quality reps. There’s no fooling around with them.”
“When it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
• Gerrit Cole (Pirates), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, made his AFL debut on Friday for the Mesa Solar Sox. The UCLA righthander threw 52 pitches, 35 for strikes, in 2.1 innings, yielding three runs in the third after blanking the Surprise Saguaros hitters over his first two innings. His fastball reached 100 and was mainly in the 93-98 range. He also used his slider and changeup.
Cole isn’t the only hard thrower on the Solar Sox roster. Andrew Cashner and Chris Carpenter, both members of the Cubs organizations, have also reached triple digits during recent AFL outings.
• Nationals prospect Matt Purke quietly made his AFL debut for the Scorpions on Saturday with two innings against the home team Javelinas in Peoria, giving up a run. Unlike the fanfare that usually precedes the debut of high profile players, there were no rumors on Twitter, no announcements to the media, and no extra hordes of autograph seekers at the game in which Purke made his first pro appearance. The southpaw from Texas Christian threw 38 pitches, 20 for strikes, and sat between 90-92 with his fastball. Purke, widely projected to be one of the top picks in the 2011 draft, was chosen by the Nationals in the third round after his stock dropped due to injury issues.