'Canes' top hitter Braun willing to switch
Third baseman wouldn't mind outfield for the big leagues
Every draft there are debates among scouts about future positions for hitters. Should John VanBenschoten hit or pitch? Is Ryan Garko really a catcher? That sort of thing. And every draft, there are differing opinions.
This year is no different, with industry-wide discussions going on about the future spots for guys like Justin Upton, Justin Bristow and Brian Bogusevic.
Then there's Ryan Braun. The University of Miami's top hitter came in as a shortstop, then moved to third for this season. But there's almost a consensus among scouts about where he'll play defensively as a pro, and it's not a spot he's played for the Hurricanes.
"I've never played the outfield, except maybe a little in high school," Braun said about the position most scouts see him playing once he's drafted. "It frustrates me a little bit. I know I'm a good-enough infielder that I know I could stay there.
"At the same time, if it gets me to the big leagues quicker, I'd make the change."
That kind of makeup is Braun's extra tool. The others he possesses -- a combination of power at the plate and speed on the bases -- is rare in this year's draft class, especially among the college ranks. As of May 20, Braun was hitting .418 for the Hurricanes with 16 homers and 21 steals.
"That's probably my greatest asset," Braun said. "I can bunt, I can steal bases and I can hit the ball hard and with power. I can help my team win games in a number of ways."
He's helped Miami win more than its fair share, though Braun's overall career as a Hurricane didn't go quite as smoothly as it seemed it might when he burst on the scene as a freshman in 2003. Braun hit .364 in his first college season and was named the team's MVP after leading the Hurricans in homers and breaking Pat Burrell's record for RBIs by a freshman.
Last year was a slightly different story. While Braun's numbers weren't awful -- he finished with a .335 average and 45 RBIs in 45 games -- he missed 18 games with a strained rib cage. Once he came back, it was mostly as a designated hitter. He's used that adversity to fuel his outstanding 2005 campaign.
"Last year, dealing with that ordeal was frustrating for me," Braun said. "I never dealt with anything like that before. It made me hungry and made me appreciate being healthy. I wanted to prove to people I was the player I was before."
He's certainly done that as his name has been mentioned all over the first round as one of the first college hitters who could be called on June 7. It's another thing scouts can agree on: While Braun will have to change gloves, it's his bat that will carry him to the big leagues.
His name first comes up at No. 7 with the Colorado Rockies, and what hitter wouldn't be excited by that? The Detroit Tigers (No. 10), Cincinnati Reds (12) and Cleveland Indians (14) all seem to have a lot of interest in Braun. It's highly unlikely he'll last past Cleveland, if he gets that far.
"I feel everybody has a pretty strong interest in me," Braun said. "I'm in the mix for a lot of different teams. It's hard to say. I figure the more mixes I'm in, the better chance I have to be selected [early]."
The clubs he has spoken with all want to ask the same kinds of questions, less about his on-field skills and more about what's inside his head. Of course, talk always tends to turn to the outfield.
"I've been meeting with a lot of different scouts and teams," Braun said. "They ask you a lot of different questions. They want to know what kind of kid you are more than anything else. And they ask the possible position-change questions."
In the end, while Braun prefers to stay on the left side of the infield, he's come to look at the talk of moving in a better light.
"I do look at it as a compliment to my athleticsm or versatility," Braun said. "Some guys are limited to a single position."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.