Terrin Vavra didn’t work out at first base yesterday, his early reps coming in right field before playing his first major league game on that side. Infield instructor Tony Mansolino might get his pupil back on Friday. Other lessons waiting for the rookie.
The Orioles came to Vavra last week with the idea of shifting some of his work to first base. The initial set of ground balls were hit Sunday morning at Tropicana Field, and the club has integrated cutoffs, relays, double plays, bunt plays, pickoffs and short hops.
“Just trying to familiarize me with it in the event that there’s an opportunity and be ready for it,” Vavra said.
“The game’s the game. It’s just where you’re standing out there. There’s little things that come with time and experience playing each position, but I like to think that I can handle the situation pretty good and give my best effort and do a pretty good job anywhere.”
Trey Mancini’s trade to the Astros has caused the Orioles to sort through their options, and creating new ones, in case of injury.
Ryan Mountcastle was hit on the left hand by a Jimmy Yacabonis pitch Sunday afternoon, and Tyler Nevin started at first base the following night in Toronto. He’s the backup, but there are no assurances that he stays on the roster for the last 44 games. And someone else must be prepped for the position even if Nevin avoids a return trip to the minors.
Adley Rutschman played first at Oregon State and in the minors when he wasn’t catching, and he took grounders while the team was in Toronto. Outfielder Anthony Santander is getting regular pregame work at first, including yesterday’s extensive session that included major league coach José Hernández. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the No. 1 prospect per Baseball America, started at first base yesterday with Triple-A Norfolk to gain experience.
Vavra said his past experience was limited to taking ground balls “a time or two, not anything serious.”
It feels more serious now, though the Orioles could be viewing it as an emergency plan.
“This is the first time I’ve really focused in,” he said. “Got a glove coming. Really trying to hone in on it and learn the position. They’re talking to me about different situational stuff now, and just learning how to play the position.
“It’s something they talked about a day or two before then. Just looking at any opportunity to get in the lineup. I’ve been around the little bit and think I’m a pretty good athlete, and it’s something they came to me with and I’m all for it.
“You definitely see the game from a different angle. It’s nothing I want to shy away from. I want to help this team win in any way I can, and if it means playing first base, if it means playing right field, if it means catching, whatever it is, I’ll be happy to do it.”
Players are more reluctant to don the catching gear, but Vavra did it in high school.
“Went to school to maybe play infield and catch at Minnesota, but when I got there, there was a good opportunity in the infield and that’s what I stuck with,” he said. “But it’s always something that me and my coaching staff talked about.”
The Orioles aren’t having that conversation. They won’t overfill Vavra’s plate by moving him behind it.
Mansolino believes the transition to first base is easier for Vavra based on his experience on the right side of the infield.
“It’s not that big of a difference. If you start to think about it, it’s about 20 yards, in terms of how they catch the ball on the ground,” Mansolino said.
“I think the biggest thing with shortstops, third basemen or Santander, an outfielder, is just catching the ball. We take it for granted that the first baseman will catch the throw every time from the infielders. You’ve seen enough baseball. You know that when you make that transition over there with guys, at some point you see guys drop balls. The more obvious is picks don’t get picked, but a routine pick is a routine play for a major league first baseman, so we expect that. But we have to catch the ball at first base, we have to be a big target for our infielders.
“One of the most underrated things when you’re making the transition to first is the bag work more so than the ground ball.”
Mansolino made an interesting comparison to Vavra, noting similarities to Twins first baseman Luis Arraez, who led the American League yesterday with a .335 average and was first in the majors ahead of the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt.
“As we all watch Vavra right now,” Mansolino said, “if we’re not thinking Luis Arraez, I don’t know what we’re thinking, because that style of player … it’s a left-handed bat, really should be everywhere. It should be second, third, first. Obviously, he can play the outfield. I think the more positions he adds the better, being left-handed.
“Terrin, to be honest with you, is going to be fine wherever we put him. I think he’s a pretty steady, sturdy defender. He catches the ball, he’s an accurate thrower, in what we’ve seen. I feel comfortable with him going pretty much anywhere.
“The way Terrin is, being a coach’s kid, playing the middle infield, being a shortstop in college and now second base, he’s got a pretty broad understanding of all the positions and the alignments. And our alignments are really simple. We don’t have audibles in our alignments based on shifting. It’s straightforward across the board, and we did that on purpose. So, it will be easy for Terrin as an infielder to make that transition, especially a right side guy. For a guy like Santander, it’s something we need to pay attention to.”
Mansolino is familiar with Santander’s past dalliance with first base in the minors. He was managing the Indians’ low Single-A affiliate in 2016 when Santander made nine starts at the position for high Single-A Lynchburg
“He can do it,” Mansolino said. “All reports were that it went really well. He’s interested in it, it would give us a ton of flexibility with the lineup, and we certainly think he can do it. It’s just a matter of when he gets the opportunity.”