Utility infielder Wilson Valdez will reportedly log some innings in center field during spring training. If successful, he could join the outfield mix as a late-game defensive replacement, a la Eric Bruntlett in 2008. (AP Photo)
If the Phillies can pull it off, shifting Valdez from dirt to grass would represent a significant addition to the post-Werth outfield insurance policy while making for an economic use of roster space. Valdez, who wasn’t in the picture last spring and has never been tested by the Phils this way, isn’t charting completely unknown waters; he’s totaled 28 2-3 outfield innings in his five-year major league career, plus his skill set looks like it could fit. Considering his howitzer arm, speed and the ease with which he has moved around the infield, a seamless acclimation to center field is not out of the question.
Valdez wouldn’t be the first old dog to learn a new trick. Consider these recent precedents: Alfredo Amezaga, Willie Bloomquist and Chris Woodward all took similar routes, at similar ages, and developed into playable depth outfielders. Amezaga spent four seasons kicking around Anaheim and Colorado without playing a single inning in the outfield, and then went to Florida where he started 64 games in center field. Bloomquist was drafted as a shortstop and played the vast majority of his first four seasons in Seattle at second, third and short. In 2004, however, he transitioned out of the infield and contributed 380 1-3 errorless innings between left and center field. The most apt example is Woodward, who was strictly an infielder before his time with the Mets in 2005. With an unhealthy Mike Cameron sidelined, Woodward helped out an undermanned New York outfield as a late-game defensive sub while continuing to contribute as a utility infielder.
If Valdez displays some comfort in center field, his versatility could allow Charlie Manuel a great deal of flexibility in late-game situations. Ben Francisco or Domonic Brown could slide to left, Shane Victorino to right and Valdez to center, or some other combination. Or it could look similar to Bruntlett in 2008 when he served as Pat Burrell’s personal late-game defensive caddy in left.
- Written for Beerleaguer by Matt Grassie