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Infielders playing the outfield? Reps, reps, reps

Easiest way for Rays infielders to learn to play the outfield is to shag and shag and shag fly balls during batting practice
Daniel Robertson, shown here catching a fly ball while playing second base, will catch a few more this season while playing in the outfield.
CHRIS URSO | Times
Daniel Robertson, shown here catching a fly ball while playing second base, will catch a few more this season while playing in the outfield. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Mar. 9, 2018|Updated Mar. 10, 2018

PORT CHARLOTTE – You are Daniel Robertson or Nick Solak or another young infielder and you have just been told by Rays manager Kevin Cash early in camp that you will get time in the outfield.

The versatility, they explain, will create more opportunities for playing time.

You leave Cash's office eager for the chance to play more, walk back to the clubhouse, and who do you see? Two-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier sitting by his locker.

The best outfielder around for miles is a good place to start if you want some advice on your added position. So you ask for some tips.

"All right," Kiermaier begins, "wherever you're going to play out there, you better shag as many rounds of (batting practice) as possible and you better pick your times when you want to see angles from righties (hitters) and lefties and decide if this ball is coming to my vicinity, I'm going to take the best route to it – fly ball ground ball – and go get it."

Nothing, Kiermaier emphasis, is better than chasing down baseballs in batting practice. You cannot replicate the way the ball comes off the bat – the backspin, the angles – with a fungo bat.

"You better take that seriously and that's going to prepare you as best as it can for the game," Kiermaier says. "Any other questions you have, come find me."

***

The sign tacked Friday morning to the bulletin board in the Rays clubhouse alerted four players to report at 9 a.m. Sunday to Field 5 for early outfield work. The players: Robertson, Solak, Andrew Velazquez and Jake Bauers.

Each are infielders identified by the Rays as players who should be able to handle themselves in the outfield. None are being groomed to replace Kiermaier, but each has the speed to cover a larger patch of ground than required in the infield.

Bauers, 22, one of the Rays' top prospects, has the most experience there; he played 74 games in the outfield last season at Triple-A Durham and 52 at first base.

"I think we've learned over time it's a positive for guys that are going to play different positions to add the outfield into the equation," outfield coach Rocco Baldelli said. You start by not trying to overwhelm them with too much. You break it down and try to talk about one or two things every time you go spend time with them in the outfield."

Robertson played second, short and third last season for a total of 82 games in the infield. He played one inning in left. He was told at the end of his rookie year to get ready for more time in the outfield in 2018.

"For me, I still view myself as a gold glove caliber second baseman and I think they know that," Robertson said, "but I'm happy to kind of move around if that means my bat does get in the lineup."

Solak, a middle infielder by trade, played leftfield during his sophomore season at the University of Louisville.

"It's not something that's foreign to me," he said.

Velazquez played center in high school until he was moved to short as a senior. When he was in the Diamondbacks organization he told the minor league staff he could play the outfield. They were not interested. The Rays are. He moved to center during the final month last summer at Double A Montgomery.

"It's harder at this level," Velazquez said of playing center in spring training. "Guys hit the ball harder, farther."

But the job, he said, is the same as when he played at Fordham Prep in the Bronx: "Don't drop the ball."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50

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