On the O's farm, versatility will be a real key

As the Orioles approached their recent instructional league camp, they knew a few things that would be important to consider. One is that building defensive versatility is never a bad thing for a player. If he can play multiple positions, his value to the team and the sport go up. The Orioles also knew they had drafted and acquired seven shortstops via the draft or trade since Mike Elias took over as executive vice president and general manager.

So the want-to - to expand defensive resumes for some players - met the necessity that some of them would need to expand beyond playing shortstop at a position that suddenly was one of strong depth on the farm.

"Our general philosophy is one of versatility," O's director of player development Matt Blood said in a recent interview. "We feel like the more positions a player can play, the more value he ultimately will bring at the major league level. And it also helps him understand all the positions on the field and how the game is played. We very much want to move our guys around and get them exposure to different spots before they reach the big leagues. In our organization right now, we have so many players that are capable of playing multiple positions. It is something we should be doing and we are going to be doing.

"Only one guy can play shortstop at a time. We feel it's real important to be able to play shortstop. But then also if you are asked to play second or third base, or center, left or right, you can go out there and do it with confidence. The more flexibility we have the better it is for our manager in the majors."

Adam-Hall-Fields-Black-Shorebirds-Sidebar.jpgIn the current MLBPipeline.com listing of Orioles' top 30 prospects, they have five players that are shortstops or play up the middle ranked among their top 20. There is Gunnar Henderson at No. 6, Jordan Westburg at No. 7, Terrin Vavra at No. 13, Adam Hall at No. 16 and Anthony Servideo at No. 20.

All 21 of Henderson's pro starts have come at short, while Westburg played mostly there at Mississippi State. Vavra has 81 career starts on the farm at short and 56 at second base. Hall has made 139 career starts at short and 43 at second in three season on the O's farm. Servideo started a few more games at second than short at Mississippi and also spent time in the outfield.

He brings some built-in versatility to the pro ranks. Others that have played at short on the O's farm include Joey Ortiz, Darell Hernaiz, Cadyn Grenier, Mason McCoy and AJ Graffanino, to name a few. That is 10 shortstops and nine players that are currently or have been ranked in a team's top 30. The O's need to get them on the field and with four full-season teams, but just one can play shortstop at a time.

So the O's recently had some of those players expanding their defensive horizons recently under the Florida sun, including two of their top 15 prospects.

"At instructional league, we had Gunnar Henderson playing all over the field," said Blood. "We had Vavra playing all over. Joey Ortiz played a lot of positions on the infield. Hernaiz got some time on the infield and the outfield. That will be a general theme: to get guys exposure to positions they could legitimately play at the major league level."

Blood said these players were not just taking reps and/or going through the motions in a new spot. They were getting in quality work and, in some cases, thriving.

"Absolutely. Gunnar Henderson is such a great athlete and he's got incredible aptitude. I believe he could play any position on the field except for catcher or pitcher. Wherever we need to put him. He could play seven positions," he said.

And after all of that, there are scouts, coaches and others within the game that feel strongly that Henderson may stay at shortstop. At 19, he could outgrow the position, but there is the also the chance a few years from now that he's still right there.

"Yeah, that's one of the seven (positions). If that is where the most value is for the organization when he makes it to the big leagues, then, yeah," Blood said. "But you never know. You might have someone else who is a great shortstop and we need someone to play center field. Having that flexibility and versatility is a major plus."

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