In his column today, Doug Glanville takes a look at Mark Teixeira, a player who didn't find a position until he got to the majors. Not finding a true defensive home until reaching the majors is nothing new. When it comes to signing amateur players, tools and athleticism rule the day, and the difficulty of each position needs to be accounted for. The best athlete on a high school team plays shortstop, but once you drop that player into professional baseball, he might only be a first baseman. With that in mind, here are five big-name prospects who will likely end up at a different position than the one they are playing in the minors.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners: The second overall pick in the 2009 draft might just be the most interesting defensive case in the minors. He was primarily a first baseman during his college career at North Carolina, but that was because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and couldn't throw. He's a plus-plus runner with up-the-middle athleticism, and while most teams thought center field was his most logical landing spot, the Mariners initial play is second base, a position at which he has no experience. Though he's been struggling with his bat at Double-A this year (he's hitting .153), scouts say he looks surprisingly comfortable with the glove.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates: Like Ackley, Alvarez is also a second overall pick (2008) with questions about his ultimate defensive home. Nobody has questions about his bat, but at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds (and probably more than his listed weight), his range at the hot corner is a bit limited, although his hands and arm are solid. The Pirates kept him out of winter ball in the offseason so he could focus solely on conditioning, but they're likely just holding off the inevitable move to first base. Expect a Jim Thome-like transition where at least the first few big league years are spent at third.
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees: Montero is one of the best hitters in the minors, period. But if the 20-year-old can't stick at catcher, it's difficult to figure out where his future lies for the Yankees other than as a massive trade chip. First base is Montero's only other option, and Teixeira is signed through 2016. To his credit, Montero wants to be a catcher, and he's putting the time in to improve, but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is slow behind the plate, and he's thrown out just one out of 14 attempted base stealers this year at Triple-A Scranton. Few believe he can stick at catcher, but many think he could help in the big leagues at DH this year. However, Montero currently has a .715 OPS, so it's not as if he is banging down the major league door.
Miguel Sano, SS, Twins: Sano was the biggest prize in last year's International market, and the Twins surprised many by giving him a $3.15 million signing bonus. He's listed as a shortstop, but one will notice that few players signed at 16 years old are ever listed as anything but shortstops or outfielders. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Sano has almost already grown out of shortstop, and could make his debut later this year at third base, with some thinking that right field could be his final destination. He is yet to play a professional game, so this will play itself out over the next few years.
Josh Vitters, 3B, Cubs: The third overall pick in 2007, Vitters is in some ways a younger version of Alvarez. Scouts are mixed on his defense. Some see a solid-but-unspectacular defender at third base that projects as an acceptable big leaguer, while others think he's destined for a move to first base or the outfield. From years of experience covering prospects I've learned that if there are even whispers of a defensive move for a prospect, they tend to happen, as the bar at the big league level is higher than we often realize. Therefore, don't expect Vitters (or Alvarez for that matter) to stick at third.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.