Ferguson: Looking back at players who changed positions

Scott Ferguson
4/15/2013 2:46:17 PM
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The Blue Jays are experimenting with having Brett Lawrie play second base at Class 'A' Dunedin. If all goes well, Lawrie will move from third to second with the Jays and Jose Bautista will play third, at least until Jose Reyes is healthy and can return to shortstop. Lawrie has played second before in the minors and the move figures to make the Blue Jays stronger at two positions and lets them play Maicer Izturis at shortstop.

All this maneuvering made me think back to all the other players who've changed position, either out of career neccessity or to help their teams.
Pat Borders was originally a third baseman/first baseman type. However, the Jays converted him to catcher partly because they didn't think he had the power to play either of the corner positions in the Majors. Borders went on to play seven seasons with the Blue Jays, was part of three Division Championship teams, two American League Championpionships, and two World Series titles. Borders was the MVP of the 1992 World Series and caught Dave Stieb's no-hitter in Cleveland in 1990, the only one in franchise history.

Carlos Delgado went the other way. He was signed as a free agent out of Puerto Rico, ostensibly to be a catcher. The Blue Jays breifly tried him in left field before moving him permanently to first base. Delgado owns nearly every Blue Jays hitting record and with 473 homers, has more than any other play ever to come out of Puerto Rico.

Roberto Alomar, "The Greatest Blue Jay" of them all, isn't known for switching positions but part of the reason San Diego traded him to Toronto is because Robbie balked at the idea of moving from second base to shortstop.

Current Jays reliever Sergio Santos was originally a shortstop. When he landed with the White Sox, they noted his strong arm and offensive limitations and convinced him to become a reliever and utimately their closer.

Righthander Bob File, who had his brief Major league career end prematurely at age 28 due to a back injury, was originally a third baseman when the Blue Jays drafted him. But he was made into a reliever and spent much of 2001 to 2004 with the big club before moving on to St.Louis in 2005 where he was forced to retire.

Dave Stieb, in my mind still the greatest pitcher developed in the Jays organization, was originally an outfielder. The Jays saw him pitch in an emergency relief role in college and decided his outfielder days should be a thing of the past. Jack Morris was the only American League pitcher to win more games than Stieb in the 1980's.

Mark Eichhorn was a slighly different case. A starting pitching prospect with the Jays, he suffered a shoulder injury in 1982. When it became clear he would never be the same pitcher again, Eichhorn learned to throw from a sidearm, almost submarine, arm slot and became a very effective reliever. He was named American League rookie pitcher of the year in 1986.

There were other luminaries in the sport who changed position and thrived. Dale Murphy came up to the Braves as a catcher but had his problems defensively. He moved to left field and then centre, becoming a multiple MVP winner and a near Hall of Famer. Mike Ivie had the same kind of defensive problems behind the plate as Murphy, but put together a decent career once he started playing the infield.

Craig Biggio of the Astros was a decent catcher but became a standout when he moved to second base. Rick Ankiel of the Astros struggled mightily with his control as a pitcher in St.Louis, but reinvented himself as an
outfielder. There are countless others who made the move to help the team or advance their careers.

Back in the early 1910's, 'Smokey' Joe Wood of the Red Sox was building a Hall of Fame resume as a pitcher before injurying his thumb and then his arm and was almost forced to retire before his time. But in 1917, after almost a year and a half out of the Majors, he resurfaced in Cleveland as a pretty decent outfielder.

The great Jackie Robinson had to learn to play first base largely at the Major League level to find a spot in the strong Brooklyn Dodgers lineup.

Of course, the greatest position switch story of all-time is Babe Ruth's. A star lefthanded pitcher with the Red Sox, his hitting talents were so prodigious, the Yankees were convinced to aquire him and make the 'Babe' into a full-time outfielder.

The Blue Jays should be a strong team with Lawrie at second and Bautista at third. To their immense credit, both men have opted to do what is best for the team. For them and the organization, it's clearly all about winning this season.

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