PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) - For a second straight spring the Pirates brought back Kevin Young to work with the first basemen at camp. The Pirates converted Young from a third baseman to first early in his career and he led the National League in 1993 in fielding percentage.
Last year Young tried making Pedro Alvarez a major league first baseman, that didn't work. Although Alvarez's fielding percentage of .978 was by far the best he ever had as a Pirate. The slugger committed 87 errors in five years at third.
This year again, the Pirates will rely on a convert at first base. On any given day, the 12-year veteran Young could be working drills with six different players at first, none of whom started their careers at that position.
"Those guys get to compete, it's that healthy competition," Young said. "They see what's up and you are always being challenged. You never have a day off because you are always trying to get better, someone is always trying to get better. It's something we all want as an organization. We want a bunch of players who are competing every day."
I asked Young about four of the likely candidates at first base and the man believed to be the heir apparent, who will start at Triple A.
"I haven't been around anybody that works as hard or wants it," Young said. "Not just say they want it, but put in the work to show."
Young said it's a more difficult change from catcher or outfield than third base to transition to first. He said Jaso came down six weeks before anyone else and has made adjustments at a very fast pace and is learning to turn the glove over instead of keeping the glove open and trying to smother the ball.
"He's actually enjoying it," Young said. "He understands what the challenges are and he can take those moments where most other people curl up in a shell somewhere, I mean he embraces it."
Young points out Jaso has a good sense of humor, recalling a story from early game action where he tagged the first base coach instead of the runner on a throw over, on purpose.
"The people of Pittsburgh are going to love him, he's a blue-collar type player. He gets after it and competes every day."
"It's not bad switching back and forth at all," Young said of the potential for Freese playing first and third base this season. "I think for David, he's another one of those guys who is thankful for the opportunity to be able to play the position, to contribute to the team."
"It's the mindset a lot of times, all of the other details that come with the position, you'll figure those out along the way. But when you have the right mindset to embrace that and learn and not make the same mistakes over, I think that says a lot about him. He's been a true professional."
"The bat is loud," Young said of the 28 year-old brought over from Milwaukee via trade. "From the defensive side, very comfortable at first base, that why he's gotten a lot of reps at third base this spring. It gives Clint another tool to work with, like I said, his bat is loud and it can be very helpful to get him in there at different points."
"Out of all the players, that would be the one that would excel the most at it because of his history and his experience at the position," Young said of the veteran who came over in a trade last summer.
Young said a major area of work is turning double plays from first. "We still need to continue to work to make him better and everyone else around him is better."
"He's coming along unbelievably well," Young said of the former second round pick. "It was just a short year and a half ago where there were a lot of question marks, but I can't say enough about his work ethic."
"He's been really fun to work with because he was so raw from the beginning, so you get to see that growth. It's a quantum leap as far as experience from last year and his ability to feel comfortable making different plays. It's a switch-hitting, controlled bat that finds a way. He's a very good player, high talent and we look forward to watching him develop defensively."
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