What do you do if your No. 1 power hitter is a klutz in the field? And there’s no DH rule.
Hide him in left field or at first base.
Until the advent of the designated hitter, that was the conventional wisdom in baseball. A team would put up with at least one klutz in a corner outfield spot to get his strong bat in the lineup.
But as the Minnesota Twins could tell you, that’s not as easy to do today.
After top power hitting prospect Miguel Sano debuted last year with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs in 80 games, mostly as a DH, the Twins sought to find a field position for the 270-pound 22-year-old this season.
The only problem? Minnesota has established corner infielders, and Sano had never played outfield. Still, the Twins did what they had to do — moved Sano to right field.
A column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently pointed out the challenges that could await the team and its green young outfielder.
“Harmon Killebrew was the Twins’ left fielder for three seasons (1962-64). He was out there with instructions not to run into a fence and to be extremely selective in diving for a ball,” the Star Tribune said.
“Times have changed. Every moment of a ballgame is subject to analysis. Butcher a fly ball and it becomes a radio and blogging conversation for three days.”
High school teams aren’t subjected to the same scrutiny, but coaches still face a big decision: play the brawny power hitter, or replace him with an adequate fielder? High school being high school, Rick Saggese, the owner of Think Outside the Diamond baseball academy, says the problem is best resolved with smart teaching — for the betterment of the young player as well as the team.
“You work with that player everyday before and after practice on the position he is trying to play and help develop his skill set at that position,” said Saggese, a former University of Miami All-American.
If that isn’t working, he turns to an age-old tactic: the best-of-both worlds approach. First he sticks the power hitter in the starting lineup.
“Then if you’re winning late in the game, you get a player who has better defensive skills into the game. You replace (the stronger) bat with a better glove in order to have the best defense to protect the lead,” Saggese said.
“As a coach you need to understand and play the card that you feel will provide the team the best chance for victory.”
When a coach moves a player from one position to another, under any situation, the player has to want to make it work. That isn’t negotiable.
“If a kid shows resistance, he isn’t a team player,” Saggese said. “This needs to be established before the season begins. Make sure players understand what the purpose of being on a team really is. It’s to be a active teammate to help a team of individuals win as many games as possible to achieve the highest level of gratification: being the last team standing.
“If a coach gets resistance in my opinion he didn’t do a good job setting the expectations at the beginning of the season. He needs to re-educate this player on ‘why’ he is doing this for the team.”