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Finding the Simplest Defensive Flips

Unlike other sports — think football, basketball, or hockey — baseball teams typically lack the depth to have a direct backup at every single position. While versatility has always been valued by ball clubs, its worth has been appreciated more at higher levels in recent years. But in leagues where the top players are pitchers as well as position players, being able to flip guys around with ease is a must — and a priority for former Halifax, Massachusetts, Babe Ruth coach Lance Patrick.

“When I see a kid in the field, my first question is always, ‘Where else can he play?’” Patrick said. “Just look at the way the diamond is set up: It shouldn’t be too hard to switch these guys around.”

Patrick said it's critical to find out how many players are capable of playing shortstop not necessarily so they can play shortstop every single game, but because he considers it a tough position. He believes if a player can handle playing there, he or she can handle just about anywhere.

“My No. 1 pitcher last year was a shortstop, so when he came out of the game I’d have a lot of options,” he said. “If you can play there, you can pretty much handle second and third without a problem. Sometimes, those guys are even worth trying out in center field — because they also cover a lot of ground.”

In order to prep his players to play multiple positions, he said he used to make switches during batting practice. He would call out position changes when a batter was done hitting and taking their place in the field to simulate the effect.

Patrick said left field and right field tend to be the easiest flips, followed by catchers moving to first base.

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“There’s less balls hit to right field, but I really think the corner outfield spots are interchangeable,” he said. “It’s about catching fly balls and the cutoff guys tend to stand in similar spots.

“As a catcher, you sacrifice the body and do whatever you can to block balls,” he added. “First base is a lot of the same, which is why you see guys like Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer in the bigs over there later in their careers.”

While he questions whether most third basemen could handle shortstop, Patrick said first base, second base and left field are realistic possibilities.

“They’re a corner infielder,” he said. “First base is another corner infield spot, which is good for the bigger guys. Some of the more athletic guys could handle second since it’s another infield spot. And you’re on the left side of the field there and get some hard hit liners to you. There’s definitely some capable outfielders there too.”

First basemen, especially left-handed ones, can be difficult to move around the field. So while Patrick would rather keep an immobile first baseman where they are if possible, he said he felt comfortable with many of his first basemen in left field.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to stick them out there and pray,” he said. “But they know how to catch a ball and you don’t need a cannon arm in left field. It’s not a bad arrangement. It’s just not ideal.”

From GameChanger and Tom Joyce.

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