Teahen may join the crowd at second
Utility infielder's journey takes him back to college days
If it's Spring Training, it's usually moving time for the Royals' Mark Teahen. This year's shift, however, could be like a trip back to school for him.
Three years ago, he was settled at third base. Alex Gordon's arrival shifted him to right field in 2007. Jose Guillen's signing a year later moved Teahen over to left to start the year before he went back to right, then went to first and third in fill-in roles.
With center fielder Coco Crisp added this winter and David DeJesus moved to left, Teahen is on the move again. When manager Trey Hillman had Teahen take ground balls at second base during a minicamp earlier this month, the Royals opened a whole new possibility for the former St. Mary's College middle infielder.
"We are definitely going to take a look at it," Hillman said by phone Tuesday.
Whether he's a second baseman again remains to be seen, and Hillman admits he doesn't know how it's going to unfold. But if it's a way to get Teahen back in the lineup, it's something that both Hillman and Teahen want to check out.
"That might possibly be the best shot I have at getting as much playing time as possible," Teahen said by phone.
There's an opening at second, but several candidates vying for it. Alberto Callaspo started there regularly down the stretch last season, while Esteban German had about two dozen starts there among his utility duties. Both return to the squad this year. Newly-acquired infielder Willie Bloomquist can also play there, and Tony Pena Jr. is looking for a position after Mike Aviles took over at shortstop.
"We feel we've got some strong options there," general manager Dayton Moore said.
Assuming Teahen joins the mix, it would be his first play at second base since his freshman season at St. Mary's, where his 6-foot-3 frame likely made him an imposing figure in the middle of the diamond before moving. The Oakland A's drafted him in 2002 as a third baseman, the job he held throughout his trip up the Minors, including his time in the Royals system. Kansas City acquired him as part of the Carlos Beltran deal in 2004.
If there's one thing that Teahen has shown in his annual moves, however, it's an athleticism and an attitude that allow him to adjust quickly. One possible comparison is with Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, a college shortstop and reliever who became a catcher in the pros, then a utility infielder and outfielder before going to third base for the second time in his career.
"It's not like I'm just an outfielder learning the infield for the first time," Teahen said. "I still look at myself as an infielder who played the outfield. It's not a huge adjustment."
The Tigers moved Inge back to third for his defense. In Teahen's case, Hillman wants his bat in the lineup as much as he can.
"We do know that there's versatility there," Hillman said of Teahen. "But at the same time, we don't want to put anything set in stone. I don't want to go into Spring Training saying Mark has to be a utility man. At the same time, I don't want to say that Willie Bloomquist or Tony Pena Jr. or Esteban German have to be utility men. We just have to make smart decisions going into the season."
Teahen's 59 RBIs in 2008 tied for third on the team with Gordon, behind Guillen and DeJesus, and he batted up and down the Royals batting order over the course of the season. None of the other candidates at second base has a track record of that kind of run production. Adding him to a lineup that now features Crisp leading off and Mike Jacobs as a power bat in the middle, the offensive balance is markedly better. There's also a better spread of left- and right-handed hitters.
Even if Teahen plays at second on occasion or in a platoon situation, that could bring him closer to regular playing time if he jumps around to other spots, resting players on different days. Striking that balance, however, can always be difficult.
If it gets Teahen back into the lineup, he's up for it.
"My outlook going into spring," Teahen said, "is I view myself as an everyday player, and I feel I can help the team. Like any player, I'd like to have an everyday spot. But at the same time, I look at the roster."
Player and manager talked it over during the minicamp. At this point, though, Hillman cautions that he doesn't know how it will play out.
"At the minicamp, I just told him to try to be patient," Hillman said. "I told him I would communicate with him freely and honestly as we moved on. ... I think there's a trust there. I think Mark understands that we understand what his wants and needs are. He wants to play. He needs to feel part of our Major League roster and he certainly should, because he produces."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.