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January 7, 2014

Baseball ProGUESTus

The 2013 All-Out-of-Position Team

by Andrew Mearns


Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers, and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Andrew Mearns is an editor and writer at SB Nation's Yankees blog, Pinstripe Alley, where he also co-hosts a podcast. A 2012 graduate of Gettysburg College, he works in higher education and aspires to keep his value as a baseball writer higher than Andy Stankiewicz's value as a player. You can follow him on Twitter @MearnsPSA and @pinstripealley.


There’s something reassuring about seeing baseball players at their normal positions, whether it’s Roberto Alomar making another phenomenal dive at second base or Brett Gardner robbing what looks like a sure double in the outfield. But baseball isn’t so simple. Sometimes it removes players from their comfort zones and throws them (and by extension, us) into the wacky world of Weirdball. Often, these out-of-position experiences stem from unexpected injuries or late-game desperation, but regardless of the circumstances, it’s extremely entertaining to see professionals playing somewhere completely bizarre. That’s why we remember such oddities as Roy Oswalt playing left field and Joe DiMaggio’s one awkward game at first base.

In 2013, baseball continued its tradition of Weirdball, starring nine players at very unusual spots. Here’s the All-Out-of-Position lineup for 2013.

Pitcher: Casper Wells
Wells had a disorienting season in 2013, spending time with five different organizations (six, counting the contract he signed with the Cubs in November). In his 53 big-league games, he ended up on the mound twice. Wells was one of 12 position players to pitch in 2013, but while he had college pitching experience, he seemed more out of position than any of the other 12 due to his ineffectiveness. If his pitching season had ended after a scoreless inning with the White Sox on June 28, the story might be different. Unfortunately, the Phillies also asked him to pitch the 18th inning of a 7-7 nailbiter against the Diamondbacks in late August.

The Phillies got only two outs of starter Ethan Martin that night, but while they had to use five pitchers to get through eight innings, they battled back from a 6-0 deficit to tie it up on a two-run homer by Darin Ruf in the bottom of the eighth. That set the stage for an unexpected nine-inning pitchers’ duel between the two teams’ bullpens. After burning through nine different pitchers, the Phillies had no one left to use. So Ryne Sandberg assigned Wells the tough task of taking the mound after manning right field for 17 innings. (It was an awful day for Wells at the plate too, as he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and the infamous “Golden Sombrero.”)

Dan Rozenson provided a thorough summary of Wells’s forgettable trip to the mound shortly after the fact. At first, it seemed like Wells would get through the inning; Chad Pennington grounded out to second on a full count and Tuffy Gosewich lined out to left. Then Wells ran into trouble when he walked the speedy Tony Campana. After a bad pitch to Adam Eaton, the floodgates opened:

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It was easily the worst outing any position player had on the mound in 2013—so bad that Sandberg had to bring in another position player, John McDonald, from left field to finish the inning. When the dust cleared, Wells was left with an ugly ledger of 2/3 of an inning, three hits, three walks, and five earned runs. Last season was a harsh one for Wells, and this game might have been the cruelest joke of all: an 0-for-7 and a five-run pitching appearance that lost the game. May the baseball gods treat you better in 2014, Casper.

Catcher: Jake Elmore
The other half of the oddly-positioned battery is Elmore, who played every position at some point for the hapless Astros in 2013. The 26-year-old had an unlikely rise to the majors after being selected in the 34th round of the 2008 draft by the Diamondbacks, and he mostly played infield in the minors. He caught only one inning in the minor leagues, back in 2010 with Double-A Mobile. After he made it to the majors for 30 games toward the end of the 2012 season, the Astros claimed him from Arizona in November of 2012, and he split time between Houston and Triple-A Oklahoma City last year.

Elmore had one of the strangest games in major league history during a 15-6 blowout at the hands of the Rangers on August 19, and he wasn’t even in the starting lineup. Manager Bo Porter wanted to rest All-Star catcher Jason Castro by limiting him to DH duty, so Castro was in the lineup at DH and backup catcher Carlos Corporan started behind the plate. In the third inning, Corporan took a foul tip off his mask and began to experience concussion-like symptoms. Not wanting to take any chances, Porter pulled Corporan from the game and took Elmore up on his suggestion of catching in an emergency situation, which he had made two weeks prior. The game was out of hand after the Rangers plated 11 runs in the third, so there wasn’t much pressure to move Castro behind the plate and lose the DH. By catching Elmore, Porter was able to stick to his plan of conserving his starter.

Elmore had to catch for only four innings, and thankfully for him, it was a mostly-uneventful stretch. Wade LeBlanc and Phillip Humber combined to allow three runs on five hits with Elmore behind the plate. LeBlanc walked one but struck out Alex Rios with a little framing help from Elmore:

For good measure, Elmore also went 1-for-2 with a run scored and a walk. He caught until the bottom of the eighth, when his game attained full Weirdball status: Elmore became just the 14th player in major-league history to come out from behind the plate and take the mound in the same game. Perhaps Wells could have learned from Elmore’s pitching style, as with Castro now catching, he threw a perfect ninth by retiring Mitch Moreland, Jurickson Profar, and David Murphy in order. Even if he never plays another day in the pros, Elmore’s name is etched in the record books.

First Base: Miguel Tejada
The 39-year-old Tejada was roughly replacement level in 53 games with Kansas City last season, spending the most time at a position he had played only four times in his career prior to 2013, second base. In one game, on April 12, Tejada donned a glove in a place where he had never been before: first base, the last refuge of the veteran. In a way, it’s surprising that it took this long for Tejada to play first, as numerous old shortstops from Ernie Banks to Nomar Garciaparra all found their way to first eventually.

Tejada’s appearance at first base wasn’t an accident; Ned Yost put him in the starting lineup since Eric Hosmer was nursing a tight quad. It was a sloppy night in Kansas City, as the Royals lost to the Blue Jays 8-4 and made three errors in the field. Tejada did not get a hit, but he did record 10 putouts without making an error.

Aside from a wide throw from Mike Moustakas that sailed by him, it was a pretty uneventful game for Tejada at first base. Regardless, he never appeared in another game there for the Royals, as Hosmer recovered and went on to start and finish almost all of Kansas City’s remaining 150 games (Billy Butler and Carlos Pena subbed when Hosmer wasn’t at first). Tejada’s comeback season ended unceremoniously when he landed on the 60-day DL with a calf strain and was slammed with a 105-game suspension for Adderall use. That ban could mark the end of Tejada’s career, but at least he got to complete his trip around the infield.

Second base: Mark Reynolds
The dinger-happy corner infielder made a couple appearances at second base for the Yankees a few weeks after they picked him up following his August release from the Indians. The injury-plagued team desperately sought righty power with the likes of Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez frequently missing from the lineup, and Reynolds filled that void with a .455 slugging percentage in 36 games.

The greatest crisis came on August 27th, when Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ (who also hurt the Yankees by breaking Curtis Granderson’s arm at the start of spring training) drilled Robinson Cano with a pitch in the first inning, knocking him out of the game (he was later diagnosed with a mere bruise). Eduardo Nunez replaced Cano at second, but he exited in the ninth with a minor ankle injury. The Yankees called on Reynolds to fill in at second for an inning to finish up the 7-1 victory. Reynolds appeared in only 25 games at second when he was a minor leaguer, and his MLB experience there consisted of two innings in 2007 as a rookie with the Diamondbacks.

Nevertheless, Reynolds completed a double play to end that game, then played another one at second base the next day to give Cano and Nunez some rest. The second game was more of an adventure, though Reynolds was not the team’s worst fielder that day (that honor goes to Chris Stewart, who turned a called strike three into two runs). Reynolds did record three putouts and two assists on relatively easy plays, but he dove and missed a very reachable ball in the bottom of the second with none on:

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A couple pitches later, Edwin Encarnacion slugged a two-run homer off the slumping Hiroki Kuroda to make it 6-0 Blue Jays. Reynolds partially made up for it by going 3-for-4 with a run-scoring double.

Third base: Vernon Wells
Reynolds’ partner in out-of-position crime for the Yankees was Wells, who could have made this team at second base, too. Wells didn’t spend a full inning for the Yankees at second, and the ball never found him there. However, the ball did find him when the longtime outfielder ended up at third base in a May 8 game against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Wells was thrust into this strange scenario as a result of Travis Hafner pinch-hitting for Yankees third baseman Chris Nelson. With Jayson Nix at shortstop and A-Rod, Jeter, Nunez, and Kevin Youkilis on the shelf, there was nobody left to play third.

Having witnessed Wells take a few grounders at third in practice earlier in the season, Joe Girardi decided to gamble with Wells at the hot corner in the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound. In 17 professional seasons, he had never played the infield, not even in the minors. With one out, Wells handled his only chance at third base quite nicely:

Wells was as surprised as we were.

Shortstop: Brandon Inge
Primarily a third baseman, Inge played some second last year in Detroit, and his half-season with the Pirates in 2013 sent him to two positions he had not played before: first base and—more surprisingly, for a career corner guy—shortstop. (Robinson Cano receives an honorary mention for spending an inning at short in April, albeit one without any fielding chances.)

Clint Barmes started at shortstop on May 14 for the Bucs and went 1-for-5 before being double-switched out of the game in the top of the 11th. The aforementioned McDonald replaced him, but after just one inning, he was forced from the game due to lower back pain. With no other options, Clint Hurdle asked Inge to fill in at short for the first time in his career. Norichika Aoki beat out a check-swing grounder to Inge, but it was hit so slowly that even Andrelton Simmons would have had to make a good play to throw him out. A batter later, Ryan Braun bounced one to Inge at shortstop, who handled it smoothly and turned it into a double play:

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It all worked out, as Andrew McCutchen belted a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the 11th.

Left field: Brendan Harris
Harris was banished to the minors for 2 ½ years after washing out with the Twins, but a PCL-inflated 2012 season in the Rockies organization led to a spring training opportunity with the Angels in 2013, and he made the team. Harris quickly reverted to his old habits, hitting .206/.252/.355 in 44 games, but on May 13, the career infielder learned a new trick, playing left field for three innings.

Defensive stalwart Peter Bourjos was already out with a strained hamstring, and in the sixth inning, Mike Scioscia decided to pull Josh Hamilton due to lightheadedness. Mike Trout and J.B. Shuck were already playing, and almost anyone in left field is a better option than Mark Trumbo, who was DHing anyway. Harris was in the lineup replacing the injured Erick Aybar at shortstop, so he moved to left field while Shuck shifted over to take Hamilton’s place in right, and Luis Jimenez came off the bench to play shortstop. The Royals pounded Joe Blanton that night and held a 10-3 lead entering the seventh, which may have played a role in Scioscia’s willingness to try Harris at a new position.

In Harris’ first inning, Alcides Escobar laced an RBI double to the gap between him and Trout, beyond Harris’ reach. Other than that, all he handled was a ground ball single through the left side in the eighth and a soft line drive by Hosmer that Harris tracked down without much of a problem. Harris’ stint as a corner outfielder was brief, but it made his already unlikely 2013 service time even stranger.

Center field: Jeff Francoeur
It took Dayton Moore almost a year and half and -3.5 WARP into the two-year extension Francoeur signed during his rebound 2011 to release him from the Royals. Desperate for outfield help, the Giants were quick to pick him up, and he played 22 games by the Bay for the fallen defending champions, including one start in center.

Bruce Bochy wanted to rest Gregor Blanco for a couple of days, so Francoeur got the start in center on August 7 against the Brewers. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout but avoided embarrassment in center, as only three balls were hit in his direction, all of which were uncatchable singles. Francoeur made a brief 1/3-of-an-inning appearance in center a week later after pinch-hitting and almost immediately getting double-switched out of the game. A week after that, the Giants cut him for OPSing .432 in 63 PA, and his season was over. The Indians became the latest team to make artistic statement by adding him on a minor-league deal on Monday.

Jason Bay, who played an inning in center field for the Mariners in May, was a narrow miss for the All-Out-of-Position Team, but Seattle wasn’t crazy enough to actually start him in center.

Right field: Lyle Overbay
In perhaps the most delightfully out-of-position moments of 2013, career first baseman Overbay, who was cut by Boston late in spring training, made four starts in right field for the Yankees.

New York signed him to be a defensive upgrade over Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson as a replacement for the injured Mark Teixeira. They intended only for him to serve as a stopgap until Teixeira got healthy again, but he surprised the Yankees by hitting .247/.289/.461 with 12 doubles and eight homers over the first two months of the season. With the condition of Teixeira’s wrist still uncertain upon his return on May 31, and the Yankees desperate for power, they kept Overbay around and sent outfielder Brennan Boesch down when they had had to make a roster move to activate Andy Pettitte. Shortly after that, Overbay made his MLB debut in right field on June 3 at Yankee Stadium against the Indians:

Overbay’s excursion to the outfield led to one terrific quote: "[Gardner's] got everything to my right and left, and behind me. And Robbie's got everything in front of me."

Overbay didn’t exactly look like Roberto Clemente in right, but he survived his four games. Fortunately for everyone’s dignity, the experiment did not last long, as Teixeira’s season-ending surgery forced Overbay to return to first base. Like Wells’ amusing diversion at third, Overbay’s brief trip to the outfield happened to coincide with the beginning of the end of his good times in 2013. From June on, he hit .236/.298/.348 with just 18 extra-base hits in 295 plate appearances.

A round of applause for the 2013 Yankees for being desperate enough to use three of their players in such bizarre ways, and a round of applause to all of the players who briefly ventured out of their comfort zone. Here’s hoping we’ll see much more zaniness in 2014; with any luck, Scioscia will send Raul Ibanez to center. Think of the GIFs!

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