MLB spring training: Miguel Andujar, Joey Gallo and other key players who are changing positions in 2020
Infielders becoming outfielders, relievers becoming starters and more -- here are 26 position changes to watch
Spring has sprung and Cactus League and Grapefruit League games are underway. I know they're only meaningless spring training games, but it's real live baseball, and besides, spring training games can be fun in their own way., for example.
For many players, spring training is a time to learn a new position going into the new season. Last season the White Sox moved Yoan Moncada from second base to third base, for example, and the Rockies shifted Charlie Blackmon from center field over to right. For whatever reason, several players change position each year, and they spend the spring learning the ropes.
Now that the exhibition season is underway, let's examine the notable players who are changing positions this year. Some players are moving to a new position entirely. Others are taking over a spot full-time that they've played sparingly in the past. And some are returning to a position they played earlier in their careers. Here are 2020's notable position changes.
Moving to an entirely new position
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has called the third base job Gio Urshela's to lose and why wouldn't he? Urshela stepped in when Miguel Andujar got hurt last season and had an incredible season. As a result, the Yankees are having Andujar work out at first base and left field this spring, two positions he's never played at any level. He is expected to play all three positions this spring and the added versatility would allow the Yankees to keep Urshela and the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in the lineup.
The Cardinals are committed to Matt Carpenter at third base and that means Tommy Edman is ticketed for left field (and possibly more of a super utility role), where he'll replace the departed Marcell Ozuna. Edman has played four innings in left field in his entire career, majors and minors, and those four innings came at the end of a blowout win last August. He's never played the position regularly, and in fact, he's played fewer than 100 innings in the outfield in his career. The outfield will be close to an entirely new experience for Edman.
Manager Joe Maddon plans to play Tommy La Stella a lot, likely at second base, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange Country Register, which doesn't leave an infield opening for the defensively gifted David Fletcher. He is expected to spend time in the corner outfield this season -- he won't replace the guy they have roaming center, obviously -- just so the club can keep his high-contact bat in the lineup. Fletcher played 154 2/3 innings in the outfield last year, mostly left, but he never played the outfield in the minors.
Anthony Rendon is gone and the Nationals have veteran options at third base (Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick), but top prospect Carter Kieboom will have an opportunity to win the job this spring. "He's going to get a shot," manager Dave Martinez said during an MLB Network Radio appearance last month. Keiboom is a natural shortstop -- he played all 10 games with the Nationals at short last year -- who has played only 10 games at third base in his career, all at Triple-A last year. Being a young player and trying to win a job in spring training is hard enough. Trying to do it while learning a new position is even more difficult.
The Rangers do not have a true center fielder on their roster and they're giving Nick Solak a look out there this spring. "Center field is (his) top priority. If he shows well, he could get a lot of playing time there," manager Chris Woodward told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Solak has played 165 innings in center field scattered throughout his minor league career, but he's never played there regularly, and he's spent the vast majority of his career at second base. Last year Texas used him at DH (17 games) more than the infield (16 games combined at second and third).
When the Marlins acquired Jonathan Villar in December, the original plan was to put him at third base. Now the Marlins are going to try him in center field, manager Don Mattingly told Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald. Villar has 12 scattered appearances in center field in his professional career and none since 2017. He's been a middle infielder since signing as an international amateur free agent in 2008 and this spring will be his first full-time exposure to center. If Villar can handle it, it would open up a few roster opportunities for Miami, most notably allowing them to put Brian Anderson at third and Garrett Cooper in right.
Familiarity with new position
The Dodgers have the two 2019 right field Gold Glove winners in their outfield. New addition Mookie Betts will remain in right field with Los Angeles, pushing Cody Bellinger over to center. Bellinger has 154 games worth of center field experience in his career, so essentially a full season, and that includes 25 games last year and 78 games the year before. Gavin Lux at second means Max Muncy will play first, so center field is expected to be Bellinger's full-time position this coming season.
The Brewers have a lot of versatile and interchangeable parts of their roster, and, on most days, their outfield figures to include Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Avisail Garcia. That leaves Ryan Braun to share first base duty with Justin Smoak. Braun has played 18 career games at first base, fewer than I thought, and all 18 came in 2018. He'll give it another go in 2020. "I do enjoy the challenge of it, and it is a challenge. It's not as easy as everyone makes it out to be," he told the Associated Press recently.
Maikel Franco this offseason, pushing Dozier to right. He played 20 games in right field last season, including 13 in a 20-game span in July and August, and now he is expected to be out there full-time. Between the majors and minors, Dozier has 68 career games worth of experience in right field. A new position, but not entirely new, you know?. He looked like the long-term solution at third base, but Kansas City took a flier on
The Joey Gallo position shuffle continues. He's gone from third base to first base to left field to center field in parts of three full MLB seasons, and this year he'll slide over to right. "I think I'm kind of the prototypical right fielder. I think that position fits me well," Gallo told MLB.com's Dave Sessions last month, and he's right. He has the arm strength for his position and the bat to meet (or exceed) the positional standard. Gallo has played over 200 games in the outfield in his career, but only 17 in right, and none since 2018.
A quad injury sabotaged Josh James' attempt to crack the Astros' Opening Day rotation last spring, and he spent the season in the bullpen. He's getting another shot at the rotation this spring -- "James has been very impressive," pitching coach Brent Strom told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart last week -- and Houston has openings behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. James has made four MLB starts (one as a one-inning opener) but started all throughout his minor league career. He knows the role. He's just never done it on a full-time basis at the big league level.
After coming up through the minors as a full-time second baseman, Scott Kingery has spent the last two years as a super utility guy with the Phillies, starting at least 40 games at three different positions (short, third, center). The Phillies cut ties with Maikel Franco, signed Didi Gregorius (pushing Jean Segura to second), and are committed to giving Adam Haseley at shot in center field. That leaves Kingery as the full-time third baseman. He has 56 games games worth of experience at the hot corner, with 41 of them coming in 2019.
The Robinson Cano trade blocked Jeff McNeil at second base, his natural position, so he spent most of last season in right and left fields. The Mets love the versatility and will look to take advantage of it when they can, but third base is looking like McNeil's most-of-the-time home in 2020. "I think I'll be playing a lot of third. I would imagine so," he told Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News last month. McNeil has 193 career games worth of experience at the hot corner, including 31 last year, though 105 of those 193 games came in A-ball in 2014.
Whit Merrifield started last season at second base, moved to right field in May, dabbled in center in early July, then returned to second in late July. With Alex Gordon returning to play left field, Maikel Franco stepping in at third base (pushing Hunter Dozier to right), and Nicky Lopez expected to get another shot at the second base job, Merrifield is currently penciled in as the Royals' starting center fielder. He's played center here and there throughout his 10 professional seasons (134 career games), though it's never been his full-time position.
One of the more aggressive moves of the offseason was the Reds signing Mike Moustakas to a four-year deal despite having Eugenio Suarez locked up at third base and Joey Votto entrenched at first. Cincinnati will deploy Moustakas at second base, a position he played for the first time last season. The new takeout slide rule and widespread shifting has lessened the defensive demands of the position, but still, going from third to second at age 31 is unusual. Moustakas has played 47 career games at second base, all last season with Milwaukee.
Going from Mookie Betts in right field to Kevin Pillar is quite the downgrade, huh? , so Pillar is expected to play Fenway Park's tricky right field to begin 2020. Pillar played 27 games in right field last season -- it was his first time playing a position other than center field since 2015 -- and he has 122 career games at the position, majors or minors. I suspect he'll be fine aside from the occasional odd carom in the corner near the Pesky Pole. I don't think Pillar will make the Red Sox faithful forget Mookie though.
The Twins finally landed a big free agent last month when they inked Josh Donaldson to a four-year contract. The move pushed Miguel Sano to first base, a position that better suits his defensive skills. Sano has played 31 games at first base in his five MLB seasons -- he's played more games in right field (38), if you can believe that -- and that's about it as far as his experience at the position goes. He played only two games at first in the minors. It's not quite accurate to call it a completely new position, but Sano has never played first base regularly. This will be his first time.
One of my favorite trades of the offseason was the Brewers buying low on Luis Urias, a talented middle infielder who was a top-100 prospect just last year. Getting him for Trent Grisham would've been unthinkable 12 months ago. Anyway, the Brewers plan to move Urias to shortstop, or at least that was the plan prior to his winter ball wrist injury. He's spent most of his career at second base but has played more than 250 games at short, including 41 with the Padres while Fernando Tatis Jr. was hurt last year. Once healthy, the Brewers are expected to give Urias his first extended look at shortstop at the MLB level.
Returning to a previous position
The super utility plan did not go well for the Braves or Johan Camargo last season. Now that Josh Donaldson is gone, Camargo will have a chance to again be the full-time third baseman, a position he thrived at in 2018. He has to beat out Austin Riley for the job in spring training, but there's a clear path to manning the hot corner on an everyday basis in 2020. "I just prepare myself like I just want to be healthy. To be honest, I know what I can do. I've done that before. I've just got confidence in me," he told the Associated Press last month.
Tyler Chatwood's first season with the Cubs was a disaster. He had a 5.30 ERA with more walks (95) than strikeouts (85) in 103 2/3 innings in 2018, and yikes. His second season went much better, mostly because he shifted into a relief role and consolidated his repertoire. Chatwood is competing for the fifth starter's spot this spring -- "Going in, he's in my eyes in that spot to be that guy," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this month -- mostly because the Cubs lack better options. With 138 career big league starts on his resume, the hope is something clicked during last year's bullpen stint.
Unlike Chatwood, Carlos Martinez's bullpen stints the last two years were injury-related, not performance-related. He's had ongoing shoulder issues. The Cardinals say Martinez is healthy now, and he has a good chance to win a rotation spot this spring following . Martinez was very good the last time he was a full-time starter (3.64 ERA in 2017) and he made at least 29 starts every year from 2015-17. "I feel 100 percent right now. I feel good and comfortable. Right now, I feel strong and I can show everybody. I'm just waiting for Spring Training and getting ready," he told MLB.com's Anne Rogers last month.
Although he is still only 26, it's getting to be make or break time for Braves lefty Sean Newcomb. He flashed high-end ability in 2018, throwing 164 innings with a 3.90 ERA, but his career-long control problems sent him to the bullpen in 2019. Newcomb will get another chance to start in 2020 and, if this doesn't work, he may move into the bullpen for good. The Braves hope he take what he learned in relief last season -- Newcomb told The Athletic's David O'Brien he plans to bring the bullpen mentality to starting -- and use it as a starter. Newcomb made 30 starts in 2018 and came up through the minors as a starter.
Philadelphia's offseason machinations will move Jean Segura back to second base, a position he has not played since 2016, when he was with the Diamondbacks. Segura played 142 games at second that season. Otherwise he's been a shortstop throughout his MLB career. Moving from short to second seems easy enough, and it is fairly common, but it can be a big adjustment for some players. The common complaint is everything feels backward. That Segura has a full season of second base duty under his belt bodes well for the adjustment this year.
With Didi Gregorius now a Phillie, the Yankees are planning to move Gleyber Torres back over to shortstop, his natural position. He came up through the minors as a shortstop until 2017, when the Yankees had him try second and third bases. They were trying to find a way to get him and Sir Didi in the lineup. Torres played 77 games at shortstop last season, most early in the year when Gregorius was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and the defensive stats say he's been better at short than second in his MLB career. Torres was a shortstop learning second base the last few years. Now he'll go back to his usual spot.
Christian Yelich has gradually gone from left to right in his career. He started in left field, shifted to center with the Marlins in 2017, then the Brewers stuck him in (mostly) right field the last two years. Now Yelich is going back to left field in deference to free agent pickup Avisail Garcia. Yelich played primarily left field from 2013-16 and played 90 games there as recently as 2018. He even won a Gold Glove at the position in 2014. Left field is probably his best position defensively. He should feel right at home in 2020.
After four starts to begin 2019, the Dodgers moved lefty Julio Urias to the bullpen, and he was excellent in that role. The club is not going to keep him in that role, however. Manager Dave Roberts told reporters, including Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, that Urias will be in the rotation to begin the regular season. The southpaw debuted as a 19-year-old in 2016 and was very good in 15 starts. Major shoulder surgery derailed him the next two years. Now that he's healthy, the club wants the 23-year-old back in the rotation so he can realize his top-of-the-rotation upside.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
If MLB has it this bad, how will it go for everyone else?
MLB and the MLBPA took an important step in negotiations on Monday
This proposal will cut down on travel
The individual was taken into custody after doing minor damage
The 2020 MLB Draft is less than two weeks away
By all appearances the two sides are moving closer to an agreement for a 2020 season