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MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is settling in with the A’s.
He just isn’t used to settling at one spot on the diamond.
The first-year, jack-of-all-positions Athletic took the field with other Oakland position players for batting practice Tuesday. He also got to chat with manager Bob Melvin, and the subject was how Zobrist would be used during exhibitions.
Yes, the A’s view him primarily as their second baseman. But he’ll bounce around in Cactus League games – shortstop, third base, left field, right field …
Versatility has been Zobrist’s calling card since he first established himself as a regular with the Tampa Bay Rays, and that won’t change now that the nine-year veteran is wearing green and gold.
“I talked to Bob a little bit today, and he said we’ll figure out the flow,” said Zobrist, acquired from the Rays in a January trade. “It’s just basically letting him know what I need to do, where I need to get some work in, at various spots at different times. I anticipate getting starts at other positions in spring training too.”
The A’s have leaned on their versatility in the past couple of years to try to create matchup advantages, plugging one player in at a position other than his usual one just so they can wedge another player into the lineup.
In the 33-year-old Zobrist, Melvin has the ultimate multi-dimensional chess piece. The two-time All-Star has played every position except pitcher and catcher in his Major League career, and he’s played more than 200 games each at second base, shortstop and right field.
“When we talk about him at second, that’s probably what we’re looking at right now predominantly, but we do tend to make in-game moves from time to time,” Melvin said. “… You put him in left, put him in center, put him in RF, anywhere in the infield other than pitcher or catcher, and you look like you know what you’re doing.”
[STIGLICH: A's position-by-position outlook: Second base]
Think Zobrist would relish the thought of growing some roots at second base?
On the contrary, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself anchored to one position. And he says whatever spot he’s getting work at will help him at other positions. For example, he loves taking throws from the outfield while at shortstop because he believes that helps his footwork and arm for all positions.
“When I take ground balls at short, I’m a better second baseman,” he said. “When I take ground balls at short, I’m a better left fielder, I’m a better right fielder. It makes me a better fielder at every other position.”
Then he emphasizes, “I have to do that.”
That’s an on-field routine that won’t change going from the Rays to the A’s. But this will be a season of adjustments for Zobrist. He was born in Illinois and lives in Tennessee, so moving to the Bay Area will be a change. This is his first spring training outside of Florida, although the Rays traveled to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2013 regular season. He also played in Phoenix while a member of the U.S. team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
His new team does share characteristics with his old team, as both the A’s and Rays have managed to build winning teams in recent years despite fluctuating rosters and the fact that each franchise sorely needs a new ballpark.
Zobrist likes the potential of this year’s A’s, who hold their first official full-squad workout Wednesday.
“A lot is going to depend on how we start and how we play early in the season,” he said. “It’s important to get off to a good start and start believing, especially when you’ve got a new team with guys that haven’t played together. You’ve got to start believing early on that you’re a good team. (That’s how) you get the snowball rolling down the hill.”