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Can a Player Be Too Versatile?

Versatility can be a tricky thing in baseball as it can be both a blessing and a curse for player and coach alike. The ideal situation with a versatile player is one who is so comfortable at each position he plays that his coach has no reservations playing him at any of those spots. But not all players are created equally.

“What we run into sometimes is we’ve got a kid we’re not sure if he’s an infielder, we’re not sure if he’s an outfielder, not sure if he’s a catcher,” Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell High School Baseball Coach Paul Gibson said. “We’ll work him at all three during our defensive fundamental time period and we start wondering (why) he’s not getting better at either one.”

However, Gibson admits that cases like the one he just described are usually more the exception rather than the rule with versatile players. “Overall, I would say versatility is good, but I have noticed that in some cases it can take away from kind of honing in on (a) skill at a particular position,” Gibson said.

Coaches Toolkit by GameChanger

One way players show their versatility is by being able to both field a position and pitch, a scenario that carries with it a unique set of challenges. Coaches have to find a formula for how much those players can do bullpen work and also work defensively at their position in practice, a juggling act which can sometimes be tough to manage.

“You should be cognizant of that, how much (time he spends where),” Gibson said. “(I've) never really had a catcher/pitcher (combo), but I know guys that have had them and that’s really a tough combination.” 

But no matter how versatile a player is, there is one factor that ultimately determines whether or not he even gets on the diamond. “Number one is can a kid hit? I tell my kids if you can hit, we’ll find a spot for you and I think the same goes on definitely in other places,” Gibson said. “The more flexible, the better.”

Gibson has coached his share of versatile players in his career, but he has noticed several trends when it comes to effectively playing multiple positions.

“Your athletes, your shortstops are probably going to be able to go play centerfield,” Gibson said. “It’s not always true the other way. I’m a little biased to infielders, but I think that flexibility tends to work a little better going further out, but it’s not bad to be flexible.”

But Gibson feels that when it comes to his players being recruited for college ball or even scouted to possibly play professionally, their versatility can sometimes be a bad thing.

“(Coaches and scouts) want to be able to say what this guy is,” Gibson said. “They’re not going to be drafting or signing too many role players. I haven’t had very many coming around here looking for a utility guy. They’re looking for a shortstop or a catcher or a pitcher.” 

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.

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