03/10/08 12:47 PM ET
Pearce moving from first to right field
To get prospect into lineup, Bucs decide to make transition
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Twelve players had entered Pirates manager John Russell's office early on Monday morning. All 12 had come out only to find their lockers cleared out or close to it. Each had been sent down to Minor League camp and was out of the McKechnie Field clubhouse within minutes.
So when Pearce was ushered into the room where general manager Neal Huntington, farm director Kyle Stark and Russell sat, it only seemed logical.
"I thought I was adios," Pearce said afterward.
Fortunately for Pearce, his 10-minute meeting was different. On Monday, management informed him that he would be making the full transition from first baseman to right fielder this spring.
He came out of the manager's office, smiled when Ian Snell jokingly asked him if he was gone and went over to his locker -- where everything was still hanging just as he had left it.
"I actually feel badly for Steve, because we just wanted to sit down and go through his development plan," Huntington said. "We just happened to pick a day with a lot of antennas up."
Pirates management has made it no secret that they see Pearce as part of their long-term plans. They love his bat, are piqued by his offensive potential and have been overly complimentary of his work ethic in this, Pearce's first Major League Spring Training.
However, circumstances have dictated that in order to get that bat in the lineup every day, Pearce is going to have to move away from his natural position.
First baseman Adam LaRoche is expected to be a fixture with the club at least for the next few years. The Pirates have reportedly shown interest in locking down LaRoche to a multi-year deal, which would eliminate the ability for Pearce to transition into that Major League spot.
In contrast, right fielder Xavier Nady appears to be playing on borrowed time. Both Nady and left fielder Jason Bay were at the forefront of trade rumors over the offseason and will continue to be assuming that they can get off to strong starts once the regular season rolls around.
In other words, there are expected to be outfield openings that Pearce can potentially penetrate in the very near future.
Earlier this week, in fact, Nady's name was connected to a trade rumor in New York, with the Mets now in need of someone to fill in during Moises Alou's likely two-month absence. That rumor appears to be just that -- a rumor sans substance -- but it does reiterate that clubs know Nady is available.
Huntington did halt any suggestion that Monday's news regarding Pearce meant that a trade of some sort was in the works, or looming in the very near future that would open up that right field spot for him.
"No, not at all. Not at all," Huntington said. "Our focus right now is to help ... the young guys that we are excited about. Our focus is to help them become the best players that they can be."
Up unto this point, Pearce has split his time pretty evenly between first base and right field. He shifted back and forth to work with both the infielders and outfielders during the first week of workouts and has done so in games as well.
Of the five starts that Pearce has made this spring, three have been as a right fielder. In two of those games, he played both positions. Pearce has also come in midgame six other times, half as an outfielder and the other half as a first baseman.
"We've asked too much of him to ask him to try and develop at two positions to try to make the club," Huntington said. "We've tried to simplify the process. At first base, there is still a lot of work to do, but he's still more accomplished at first, so that will allow him to work in right field for now."
It should be noted, however, that while Pearce does still stand a chance of making the team out of Spring Training, that odds still appear slim. The Pirates have vowed not to sacrifice Pearce's development in order to keep him as a bench player in the Majors at the start of the season.
"That's not in their best developmental interest," Huntington said. "If there is regular opportunity for regular at-bats, then it makes sense for them to be on our club. If not, it makes sense for them to be in the Minor Leagues."
Should Pearce start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, he would do so as a right fielder. However, the Pirates have not ruled out that Pearce will never pick up a first baseman's mitt again. Huntington also added that left field may not be out of the question for Pearce down the road, though for now, all the focus will be on right.
The transition to the outfield began last August for Pearce, when he made the move from Double-A to Indianapolis. He was thrown into the fire then in September, when he played in 18 Major League games in right field. He committed two errors in Indianapolis, none in Pittsburgh.
He has looked adequate in the outfield so far this spring considering his lack of familiarity with the position, though he did have a rough day in the field on Sunday, when he dropped a fly ball and misjudged a carom in the corner that eventually led to a triple.
Pearce is well aware that the transition will have its bumps, and he did admit that he will miss first base just a little bit. But regardless, now he said he's ready to channel all of his energy into developing himself into a Major League-ready outfielder -- as odd as that still might sound to him.
"I've got to ask questions. I've got to be out there for early work. I have to do so much to help myself get better," said Pearce, who is hitting .241 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring. "I'm going to go out there and work my butt off every day. There are a lot of things I have to work on to get to the next level.
"I am going to talk to players and just recognize their work ethics and how they play the game, what kind of stuff they do," he continued. "They are great players and I learn a lot from those guys. That's the bottom line -- see how they go about their business and incorporate it into what I do."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.