Hopefully, a bat is the only equipment John Jaso will need this season.

Hopefully, a bat is the only equipment John Jaso will need this season.

John Jaso is back with the Rays but this is not the same John Jaso who came up through the Rays’ system and spent parts of three seasons with the Rays.

This Jaso is no longer a catcher and instead will be used mainly as a DH. However, he could also see time at first base and in the outfield.

Jaso has played first base in the past including two games in the big leagues and 15 in the minors. On the other hand, Jaso has never played in the outfield and he says he will be nervous the first time he is sent out there in a game.

“I think the nervousness will be there the first time that [manager Kevin Cash] decides to throw me out there,” Jaso said.  “I think getting those first one or two balls hit to me will calm me down a little bit.”

In theory, moving from the most challenging defensive position to one of the easiest should be a piece of cake. Bill James presented what he called “the defensive spectrum,” which looks like this.

1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C

As you move to the right on the defensive spectrum, the positions become more difficult to play. The theory is that a player should be able to move from right to left on the spectrum while the opposite direction almost never works.

However, the theory is not always correct and Jaso explains the difficulties of making the switch and it starts with the mental preparation before pitches which come naturally to players who have played in the outfield their entire lives.

“I think one of the challenges is going to be picking up the ball and knowing where to throw,” Jaso explained. “Like knowing where the cutoff man is going to be and stuff like that, and when there’s runners on, which base to go to, keeping double plays in order … Those kinds of presets that you have to put inside your mind before the pitch is even thrown is going to be where a lot of the work would be.”

History also tells us that making the switch is not always smooth. For every Craig Biggio, who made a successful transition from catcher to the outfield (via second base), there is a Todd Hundley who looked completely lost in the outfield.

Hundley, like Jaso and unlike Biggio, was a below-average defensive catcher who was never a gifted athlete. But when the Mets acquired Mike Piazza, Hundley needed a new home.

It didn’t go well.

Here is a report from the New York Times in 1998:

“The grand experiment of turning Hundley into an outfielder had just begun. Today, after 34 starts in left field — some of which were painful to watch — the experiment is officially over … Now the Mets have a $4.8 million pinch-hitter sitting in the dugout as they chase a wild-card berth and questions to answer about their catcher position … When asked today what he was going to do with his outfielder’s glove, Hundley said, ‘Burn it.'”

Of course, where the Rays differ from the Mets is that they have the DH position to fall back on and don’t need the outfield to get Jaso’s bat into the lineup. But there are going to be other days when somebody will need to DH. Let’s hope those days are less adventuresome than the one the Mets had.

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