Hope springs eternal each year as players modify some aspect of their game in an attempt to rewrite their scouting reports. Here are examples of players making a fundamental change for 2013 in each of the 10 Eastern Division organizations.
The Braves wasted no time in making the call on 2012 sixth-rounder Josh Elander’s future position, shifting him from catcher last year at Rookie-level Danville to left field this season at low Class A Rome. There, his hard hands won’t cost Braves pitchers strikes. The 22-year-old Elander began the season on a tear, hitting .324/.342/.479 with a homer and six doubles through 71 at-bats.
Mychal Givens hit 97 mph off the mound at Tampa’s Plant High, so after the 2009 second-rounder hit a mere .225/.309/.274 in 650 career plate appearances as a shortstop at low Class A Delmarva, the Orioles converted the 22-year-old to righty reliever and assigned him to the Shorebirds for the fourth straight season. Baltimore lowered the arm slots of two Triple-A relievers—30-year-old righty Daniel McCutchen and 38-year-old lefty Mark Hendrickson—in an effort to revive their careers. McCutchen must serve a 50-game drug suspension before he makes his second appearance of the season, however.
Boston Red Sox
Three lower-level Red Sox players are changing their profiles in extended spring training. Erstwhile catcher Oscar Perez, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, will convert to righthanded pitcher; 2012 Las Vegas-area 12th-rounder Mike Meyers converts from second base to the outfield; and lefty Manny Rivera will lower his arm slot after taking step one toward remaking himself as a reliever at high Class A Salem last year.
Athletics 2010 second-rounder Yordy Cabrera has the raw power and arm strength to profile at third base, so the Marlins shifted the 22-year-old there with low Class A Greensboro after acquiring him from Oakland in last offseason’s three-team deal that shipped Heath Bell to Arizona. Cabrera committed 61 errors in 159 career games (.911 fielding percentage) in three seasons as a shortstop in the A’s system. James Wooster, Miami’s 2010 12th-rounder, will shift from the outfield to lefthanded pitcher. Righty reliever Chris Hatcher converted from catcher in 2011, but this spring he endeavored to learn a splitter so that he’ll be better armed to combat big league lefties, who have tuned him up for a .927 OPS in 51 plate appearances.
New York Mets
The Royals lured third baseman Jake Kuebler away from a Nebraska commitment (where he would have followed cousin Alex Gordon) with a $150,000 bonus out of the 17th round of the 2008 draft. He failed to advance past high Class A in five years in the Kansas City system, which earned him his release last June and a new lease on life as a righthanded reliever after the Mets signed him in July.
New York Yankees
Shortstop and 2010 first-round selection Cito Culver gave up switch-hitting and bats exclusively from the right side now as he repeats low Class A Charleston. The 20-year-old hit a cumulative .222/.323/.308 in 627 plate appearances as a lefty batter for short-season Staten Island in 2011 and the RiverDogs last year.
The Phillies found themselves swimming in upper-levels catching depth following the maturation of Cameron Rupp and the acquisition of Tommy Joseph last year, so this season they’re alleviating the logjam to a degree by trying Sebastian Valle in left field on occasion (one game so far at Double-A Reading) as well as having him take grounders at third base. The 22-year-old previously logged time in left field during the 2011 Mexican Pacific League season.
Tampa Bay Rays
The fourth player acquired by the Rays in the December deal that shipped James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals, Patrick Leonard shifts from primary third baseman last year in Rookie ball to primary first baseman for low Class A Bowling Green this year. He’s off to a 10-for-57 (.175) start, though at least Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi got off to good starts at Triple-A Durham. Alejandro Segovia moves out from behind the plate to play first base and DH on a regular basis for high Class A Charlotte.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto begins the process of converting strong-armed position players Justin Jackson (sandwich round, 2007) and Markus Brisker (sixth round, 2008) into strong-armed righthanded pitchers in extended spring training.
Micah Owings has the highest OPS (.813) of any pitcher with at least 200 career plate appearances during the Expansion Era. So after making a stray 61 pitching appearances in the big leagues for the Reds, Diamondbacks and Padres since 2010, he’s committing to the Rick Ankiel and Brian Bogusevic development plan this season. That is, the 30-year-old Owings is playing exclusively corner outfield after signing a minor league deal with the Nationals in February.