Nine Prospects Taking On New Positions In 2014

Teams shift prospects down the defensive spectrum all the time—from shortstop to second base, for example, or from corner outfield to first base—as they try to find the right balance of positional demands.

Before he moved to Pawtucket, the Red Sox were trying Double-A Portland second baseman Mookie Betts in center field (Boston center fielders are hitting .195 with two homers this season). The Diamondbacks and Giants have shifted first-round picks to easier positions at low Class A, the former moving Stryker Trahan from catcher to right field and the latter moving Christian Arroyo from shortstop to (mostly) second base.

More rare is the shift up the defensive spectrum, which asks less of a prospect’s bat but more of his glove. Here are nine prospects who are playing different primary positions this season, some moving up the spectrum, and others down.

Now Playing Catcher

Victor Caratini, low Class A Rome (Braves)

victor-caratini-2013-mugAge: 20. Acquired: Selected in second round of 2013 draft from Miami Dade JC.

Caratini has played catcher three times as often as third base this season, and while he ranks in the bottom half of South Atlantic League backstops in terms of throwing out basestealers (27 percent), his bat has not suffered for the conversion from the hot corner. The switch-hitter has batted .301/.359/.398 with a bit of gap power (12 extra-base hits) and an 18-percent strikeout rate through 44 games. Caratini caught sporadically in junior college, but a lack of agility coupled with a strong arm made him a natural conversion candidate in pro ball.

Carson Kelly, low Class A Peoria (Cardinals)

Carson KellyAge: 19. Acquired: Selected in second round of 2012 draft from Westview High in Portland, Ore.

A third baseman in high school and his first two years in pro ball, Kelly has played catcher exclusively this season after converting there during 2013 instructional league. While he leads Midwest League receivers with 44 assists and ranks second with a 43 percent caught-stealing rate, his rough edges show with seven passed balls and a league-leading six errors. He throws well but lacks range, just like the Braves’ Caratini. Making his second attempt at the MWL, Kelly has performed better than last year, but still is hitting .219/.293/.381 with five homers through 41 games.

Tyler Ogle, high Class A Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers)

Tyler Ogle (Photo by Bill Mitchell).

Age: 23. Acquired: Selected in ninth round of 2011 draft from Oklahoma.

Ogle led the Midwest League with a .401 on-base percentage last season, but he faced numerous roadblocks to the majors as a first-base prospect, chief among them fringy power and a 5-foot-10 stature that does not provide infielders with a large target. He dedicated himself to playing catcher this season and already has logged a career-high 29 games behind the plate. A righthanded batter, Ogle has hit .267/.410/.379 with three homers in 37 California League games, so he’s going to need to improve his fluidity and accuracy (19 percent caught stealing) behind the plate to have a chance. He’s in the right organization to do so. The Dodgers have successfully converted infielders Russell Martin, Carlos Santana and others to catcher.

Playing Shortstop More Than Ever

Taylor Featherston, Double-A Tulsa (Rockies)

Taylor Featherston (Photo by Bill Mitchell).Age: 24. Acquired: Selected in fifth round of 2011 draft from Texas Christian.

That Featherston has the range, quick feet and strong arm to play both middle-infield positions is not in question, and now that he’s no longer teammates with Rockies high-priority prospects Rosell Herrera and Trevor Story, he’s splitting his time evenly at shortstop and second base at Double-A. His bat has not made such a seamless transition—a righty swinger, he’s hitting .256/.322/.364 through 49 games—but his track record suggests his offensive production should improve. He entered the year with a career .284 average and has fringe-average power that will play in a utility role.

Hernan Perez, Triple-A Toledo (Tigers)

Hernan PerezAge: 23. Acquired: Signed as international free agent from Venezuela in 2007.

Perez hasn’t played shortstop this frequently (43 games thus far) since 2010 when he has a teenager at low Class A West Michigan, though the May 22 promotion of Eugenio Suarez from Double-A has forced him back to second base at Toledo. The positional flexibility will come in handy for Perez, who has a line-drive, righty stroke but below-average speed and power, as evidenced by his .252/.301/.317 batting line through 53 games. Many scouts project him as a regular at second base only, but he has the arm, range and hands to play shortstop on a part-time basis.

Jorge Polanco, high Class A Fort Myers (Twins)

Jorge PolancoAge: 20. Acquired: Signed as international free agent from Dominican Republic in 2009.

The Twins reshuffled their entire Fort Myers infield to get Polanco everyday work at shortstop, moving Niko Goodrum from short to third base and Travis Harrison from third to left field. A solid defender without any plus defensive tools, Polanco has been error-prone in the early going, committing 16 and posting a .933 fielding percentage. The Twins might be able to live with average defense if the switch-hitter delivers on his ceiling with the bat. One of the Florida State League’s most difficult batters to strike out, Polanco hit .291/.364/.402 with three homers through 50 games.

Across The Keystone To Second Base 

Arismendy Alcantara, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

Arismendy AlcantaraAge: 22. Acquired: Signed as international free agent from Dominican Republic in 2008.

Many scouts prefer Alcantara at second base rather than shortstop, owing to hard hands, and the Cubs moved him across the keystone last summer when top prospect Javier Baez joined him at Double-A Tennessee. Alcantara’s bat appears to be up to the task. The switch-hitter ranked second in the Pacific Coast League with 28 extra-base hits and hit .280/.317/.540 with seven homers through 51 games, and he’s positioned to arrive in Chicago in concert with—or perhaps ahead of—Baez and Double-A third baseman Kris Bryant.

Jose Peraza, high Class A Lynchburg (Braves)

Jose PerazaAge: 20. Acquired: Signed as international free agent from Venezuela in 2010.

With shortstop Andrelton Simmons locked up through 2020 and no set-in-stone option at the keystone, the Braves proactively shifted Peraza from shortstop to second base at Lynchburg because they believe he can make quick work of the minors, as Simmons did. Unlike Simmons, Peraza’s weakest defensive tool is his arm, so perhaps a position switch was destined. Regardless, he has hit .320/.346/.417 through 53 games with Carolina League-leading totals for hits (73) and stolen bases (27). The righthanded hitter has struck out just 11 percent of the time and ranks third in the league’s batting race at .320, which could make him leadoff material for Atlanta.

Carlos Sanchez, Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox)

carlos-sanchez-2013-bwAge: 21. Acquired: Signed as international free agent from Venezuela in 2009.

The White Sox have transitioned Sanchez from shortstop to second base through the years as he’s lost quickness, and this season at Triple-A he has appeared four times as often at the keystone, while Tyler Saladino plays shortstop for Charlotte. His above-average arm and soft hands will play as a regular at second base, a possible outcome if the switch-hitter continues to hit as he has in the early going. Through 52 games, Sanchez hit .292/.371/.396 but with a concerning 21-percent strikeout rate.