01/30/2003 6:53 pm ET
Reds Spring Training preview
Club hopes Aaron Boone is the answer at second
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
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Ed Smith Stadium
CINCINNATI -- Aaron Boone sounded mildly tentative but mostly excited, like a visitor to the beach who had waded into neck-high water. Maybe the ocean felt a little cold. Perhaps the waves were a trifle rough. But he had gone this far, and he was ready to dive deeper.
In Boone's case, he's not trying to body-surf, though he could get sand kicked in his face if he doesn't watch out. Having spent virtually all of his 4 1/2-year Major League career as a third baseman, Boone will begin Spring Training attempting to learn second base, which is merely on the other side of the infield but might as well be on another continent, given the vast differences between the positions.
Since general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone agreed in early January to implement the change, Aaron Boone has tried to learn some of the rudiments of second base, such as adjusting to the angles of ground balls, flipping quick relays to shortstop and practicing his footwork on the all-important double-play pivot. The experience has left him eager to try more, once workouts begin in Sarasota, Fla.
"I'm feeling good about it," Aaron Boone said recently. "It's going as well as we could have hoped, I think. Two weeks into it, I think I'm going to be able to do it."
"I've been pretty leery," admitted Bob Boone, who is also Aaron's father. "But every day that goes by, I come away thinking, 'He can do it, no problem.' He gets a little bit better every day. I know what a good athlete he is, so I think he may be as good at second as he was at third."
Spring Training will progress easily for the Reds if Aaron Boone does.
"We could pencil it out right now and probably make out a lineup that we
could leave in there all year without too much problem," Bob Boone said. Aaron
Boone's successful transition to second base would have several residual
Brandon Larson, the projected everyday third baseman, would be free to concentrate on cementing his status. Though Larson impressed observers at the plate by hitting .275 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 51 at-bats, he has just 37 games of Major League experience and needs more seasoning, whether it's on the practice diamond or in competition.
Not only could Barry Larkin remain at shortstop, the position he has owned since 1987, but he also wouldn't have to wonder whether Boone might siphon off his playing time. Boone started 13 games at shortstop last year, demonstrating the versatility that prompted the Reds to think of moving him elsewhere. With Boone at second, Larkin could focus on honing his own game and mentoring Felipe Lopez, who was anointed the team's shortstop of the future upon being acquired from Toronto in a four-way Winter Meetings trade.
"Hopefully Lark is going to bring Felipe Lopez along," Bob Boone said.
Obviously, manager Boone wouldn't have to find a second baseman, a vacancy that was created in December when Cincinnati dealt Todd Walker to Boston for two prospects. If Aaron Boone fails, the Reds might have to try switching another infielder to second, such as Larson or Larkin. Or Cincinnati might take a look at Lopez, who played 18 games at second base at Triple-A two years ago.
Boone's metamorphosis will be a group effort. He plans to work with his older brother, Bret Boone, before the Seattle second baseman leaves for Spring Training in Arizona. At 6-foot-2, Aaron's taller than most second basemen, so he already has solicited pointers from Bobby Grich, the former six-time All-Star.
"It's one thing to (consult) the little guys like my brother. I wanted to get a guy who played the position well who's also bigger," said Boone, referring to Grich's 6-2 stature, while delivering a subtle jab toward Bret.
Once Spring Training workouts begin, Boone also will work extensively with coaches Tim Foli and Ray Knight, both former infielders. "And I'm going to pick whoever's brain I can," Boone said.
Said Bob Boone, "I think he's going to take to it really smoothly and after a couple of weeks, we're going to say, 'He's the second baseman.' You always have to try different people at different positions just in case of injury. But my gut tells me he's going to be able to do it."
"I'm feeling good about it. It's going as well as we could have hoped, I think. Two weeks into it, I think I'm going to be able to do it."
-- Aaron Boone
Before that can happen, Aaron Boone knows he'll have to become at least adequate at executing the double-play pivot. It's especially challenging for second basemen, who usually take the relay while facing away from the baserunner and thus are vulnerable to being upended by a hard slide.
"In making the pivot, I feel like I'm getting comfortable in letting the ball dictate what I do," Boone said. "The second baseman's ability to turn two goes hand-in-hand with being a good team. I want to get really good at it."
Shouldering unusual burdens has become almost commonplace for Boone, who turns 30 on March 9. Two springs ago, he successfully overcame a serious knee injury. Last season he accepted the unenviable task of serving as Cincinnati's player representative as the threat of a work stoppage loomed. He has remained popular with teammates and immune to any negative repercussions stemming from the fact that the Reds' manager happens to be his father.
All this suggests that Boone can deal squarely with issues, including an assessment of his performance at second base.
"I think we'll all kind of know what's best -- myself, my dad and the coaches," Boone said. "I'll be a pretty good critic. I'll be pretty hard on myself in expecting to be good. I'm not going over there expecting to be (just) OK. We'll do what's necessary to make sure I'll be as good as I can be when we head north."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the
approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.