Orioles' Givens Adjusts To Life At Second Base

GREENSBORO, N.C.—For Orioles prospect Mychal Givens, every day is opposite day. The former shortstop is getting his first test at second base this season with the Delmarva Shorebirds.

The move is harder than it sounds. Everything from the way balls are hit to him to the double-play pivot is the opposite of what he was used to at short, where he'd played since Little League.

Givens, who turns 21 in May, said the position requires a different approach, but he still occasionally reverts back to his old ways. During an April game in Greensboro, for instance, he reacted like a shortstop to a ground ball hit toward the hole between first and second base. He charged and scooped the ball, planted and flipped the ball back to the first baseman.

Mike Bordick, the system's roving offensive instructor, has also worked with Givens on defense. While at Double-A in the Athletics system in 1988, Bordick made the same transition, and he said getting comfortable took time.

"I had to concentrate a lot more," he said. "On routine ground balls hit to the left side of the infield, the foot positioning is right, then left and the throw to first base. The rythm is different at second base. Just getting your feet to work properly is a big adjustment."

But the biggest adjustment, he said, was toning down his aggressiveness.

"At second, you have a little more time to get to the ball and make the throw," Bordick said. "By way of using your feet, you can field a ground ball going back into the grass. It took me a while to understand that."

On the Greensboro play, Givens didn't need to charge the ball. He could have taken his time and made the play easier, something Bordick expects Givens will do more of as the season goes along.

New Kid On The Block

An interesting wrinkle to Givens' challenge is the fact that his double-play partner is the player who forced the move. The arrival of Manny Machado, Baltimore's first-round pick last year, prompted the organization to talk to Givens about second base last fall. He said he was fine with it from the beginning.

"If they wanted me to go to the outfield or anywhere else, I believe in my ability enough that I think I could play anywhere," he said.

Givens said he felt no bitterness toward Machado. In fact, he seems to understand that his baseball future may be tied to the Orioles' top prospect.

"Whatever gets me to the big leagues faster, I'm ready to make the adjustments I need to make," Givens said. "I'm just eager to get the chance to play with Manny. I'm glad I'm getting a chance to gel with him this season."

Their relationship goes back to high school, when they were teammates on a summer team in Florida. Both were well-decorated players as preps. Givens earned the Florida Class 5A player of the year award in 2009, leading Plant High in Tampa to the state semifinals. The two have been roommates since Machado joined the organization.

"They hang out on and off the field," Delmarva manager Ryan Minor said. "With Mike being in the system for a couple of years, Manny has been able to ask him a lot of questions. They've bonded."

Givens may have stayed at shortstop for at least this season had it not been for a pair of delays in his development. He signed too late to play in 2009, and last season he ruptured a tendon in his thumb after just seven games with Delmarva.

"That's baseball," said Givens. "You can't think what might have been. You have to focus on how you are going to come in each day and be as consistent as you can."

The delays appear to have affected Givens offensively. Scouts say Givens has a compact swing that generates hard contact and should lead to gap power and 15 home runs annually in the major leagues. Last year, after returning from his thumb injury, he hit .364 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 33 at-bats for short-season Aberdeen. Then the Orioles gave him a cameo appearance at high Class A Frederick, where he went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.

Cold Start

This season, however, Minor said Givens started off pressing to make up for lost time, as he had just four hits in his first 10 games.

"Mainly, it's his balance and weight shift as far as loading and getting ready," Minor said. "His timing was off in spring training and it carried over in the cold weather. He was letting balls get too deep on him."

By late April, however, Minor said Givens had corrected those flaws. Although his batting average was just .121/.216/.121 through 65 at-bats, Givens was beginning to make solid contact again.

Minor has no doubt Givens' bat will heat up with the weather. But whether Machado and Givens move together through the system will depend mainly on Givens' defense. Minor said Givens' athleticism has helped him get comfortable quicker than the Shorebirds skipper anticipated.

"He's a quick learner," Minor said. "All I've had to do is give him a couple of tips here and there, and he picks them up really quick."

Minor added that Givens' arm strength has allowed him to make plays up the middle that many other second basemen can't. Givens' arm is so strong other organizations that scouted him in high school considered drafting him as a pitcher.
As far as the double play pivot, Givens has already shown good footwork around the bag and a feel for runners bearing down on him.

"Overall, I feel like I'm getting better at the position," he said. "I have great instructors helping me make the adjustments, and it helps having guys like Manny and (third baseman) Jonathan Schoop with me on the infield. They're both great infielders who give me great feeds on double play balls."

Givens said all he needs to do is continue to play at second, getting used to the way balls are hit to him so that one day, what once seemed completely opposite to him becomes routine.

Chris Gigley is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.