In the closing innings of the 14-inning showdown with the Los Angeles Angels Monday night, Peter Bourjos entered the game as designated hitter before playing second base due to an injury to Zack Cozart. This was significant not only because the Angels lost their DH for the evening, resulting in the game ending with a pitcher striking out a pitcher who was pinch-hitting for another pitcher, but because Peter Bourjos is a center fielder. He’d never played second base in his professional career before that day — although you wouldn’t know it from his performance in the field.
It seems that we have one of these “fish out of water” type situations at least once a year. Last season we were subjected to 15 games of Neil Walker, right fielder; two years ago, Bryan Mitchell spent an ill-fated inning at first, while Chase Headley spent an inning at second. And who can forget Carlos Beltran’s first base foray in 2014, as he himself replaced an out-of-position Francisco Cervelli.
In a lot of ways, it might be a bit of a surprise that the Yankees really have not had to play anybody truly out of position yet this season, even with all their injuries (knock on all the wood within sight). Even so, that does not have to stop us from trying to imagine which players currently on the active roster would best be able to “fake it” for an inning or two at an unnatural position.
It might feel like cheating to call LeMahieu, whom the Yankees signed to serve as a super-utility guy who could play all around the infield, as a fish out of water; after all, he has already shown a level of proficiency at the hot corner, and could likely play a solid first base as well. It is his collegiate experience, however, that makes me believe that LeMahieu could hack it for an inning or two at shortstop or in the outfield.
Back in college, LeMahieu began as a shortstop, before being moved to second base in favor of Austin Nola (now a catcher in the Seattle Mariners organization). Although shortstops do not always convert to the outfield well — hello, Hanley Ramirez — they tend to be prime candidates for position conversion in the minor leagues; this bodes well for the possibility of LeMahieu filling in as an outfielder, probably in one of the corner spots, in a pinch.
Much the same logic regarding LeMahieu follows here as well; as a shortstop, Torres likely could provide some outfield defense in a pinch, and he does have the arm to play right field in an emergency. Furthermore, back in Venezuela, although he garnered attention as a shortstop, Torres would play all over the diamond, including behind the plate and in center field. The young star’s athleticism bodes well for an emergency position shift.
Clint Frazier has garnered much criticism for his outfield defense, which makes him an unusual suspect for emergency position flexibility, but he has had experience as a third baseman, albeit at the high school level.
It is much easier for an infielder to grab an outfielder’s mitt and play in the outfield for an inning or two, or even for several games; finding an outfielder, on the other hand, who can play in the infield in a pinch is a much tougher proposition, and usually is found by using outfielders who had originally come up through the minors as infielders (e.g., Mookie Betts playing second). After that, you need to look for guys who played an infield position as an amateur, either in their high school or college days, so that you can plug in somebody who has some level of familiarity with the position.
When Frazier was drafted out of high school, some prospect lists listed him as a 3B/OF, and while he has not played the position in years, Frazier has the arm strength to man the position and the athleticism to not be completely over-matched at the position.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Judge
When I first began work on this article, I only wanted to focus on players currently on the active roster, but learning that Aaron Judge — whom I had assumed, due to his size and athleticism, had always played in the outfield — actually began as a first baseman and pitcher back in high school. While I do not expect the Yankees to ever move Judge into a completely unfamiliar position due to what he means to the team, it does show just how professional ballplayers shift positions even before they reach the professional level.
Hopefully, the Yankees will never have to employ any of these unusual alignments over the course of the season. As we have seen, though, things can rapidly get out of hand within a game, and the possibility of players playing unnatural positions in an emergency can mean the difference between an unlikely victory and a harsh defeat.