Yan makes impact with transition to mound
Former infielder finds niche as reliever with Rangers organization
FRISCO, Texas -- During the 2009 season, Double-A Frisco reliever Johan Yan faced a crisis of identity.
Yan, who had signed a six-figure deal with the Rangers as a 16-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, had fizzled as a position player, having just put up a 9.36 ERA in his first season on the mound. Yan admits that he considered leaving the sport in that season.
"I would just think about it," Yan said. "I didn't tell anyone, but just in my mind, I would think about it."
After batting .207 over the course of three seasons, with 176 strikeouts in 425 at-bats, Yan appeared as if he would not make the Majors as an infielder. Since he had been known for his strong throwing arm -- part of the reason he shifted from shortstop to third base in 2007 -- the Rangers decided to try him from the mound.
"I was a little bit nervous, because I had never pitched," Yan said. "I didn't know what to do, but it's worked out."
Yan struggled in his first season on the mound, and even with velocity. Minor League hitters had little difficulty in seeing Yan's pitches. He surrendered 31 hits and 17 walks in just 25 innings pitched.
Yan, seemingly on the fast track out of baseball altogether, thought about giving up.
"Sometimes I tried to quit, but I kept fighting and learned how to pitch," Yan said. "This year, I've done good."
If Yan needed inspiration in his attempts to transition from a fielder to a pitcher, he wouldn't have needed to look outside his own organization. Rangers All-Star Alexi Ogando began as an outfielder, but now he has been one of the team's most consistent starters.
"I know I had to work very hard, because he worked very hard to do it," Yan said.
Now, Yan freely admits that his favorite part of the game is when he is first brought in. Instead of dreading having to face professional hitters, he says he enjoys the cheers from the Frisco crowd that ring out whenever he's entering the game.
That could be because he is having more success against the hitters, which in turn causes the crowd to be more and more raucous when he comes in.
Last season, Yan switched to a sidearm delivery, which was a nod to his past as a third baseman. Yan took to the new delivery, and his career skyrocketed.
He posted ERAs of 2.70 and 1.08 in 2010 and '11, respectively, pitching at every level between low Class A Spokane and Double-A Frisco.
"I'm throwing more strikes and I'm attacking the hitter now," Yan said. "I understand that very well. That was my adjustment."
Now, Yan only looks back at those dark days in 2009 and sees part of a larger process to get to where he is now, just two steps away from the Major Leagues.
"It was difficult, but good practicing and a lot of good coaching, so I've [learned how to pitch] very well," Yan said.
Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.