Switching positions is never easy in baseball. The adjustments may seem minor in theory, but being able to successfully make the change is a whole new ballgame.
That’s the change Josh Hamilton is trying to make.
After being released in the offseason by the Rangers, the 2010 American League MVP was brought back on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Now, he will be making the switch from the outfield to first base.
“I’m excited about it because I’ve wanted to play first for years,” said Hamilton. “To have the opportunity to be more involved in the game because you are there is exciting to me. It’s something new because I haven’t done it in so many years.”
Hamilton is basically just excited to be able to play. Since returning to the Rangers in 2015, he’s missed the majority of the time with various injuries, including all of last season due to multiple surgeries on his left knee. He was cleared to resume baseball activities in December and has been putting in work since.
“I think it’s a prove yourself thing,” added Hamilton. “There’s no guarantees, which I’ve always found that I like. It just pushes you and drives you to be better and to get to where personally you feel like you want to be as a player.”
There are adjustments to be made moving from the outfield to first base, including learning the footwork around the bag and how to pick errant throws out of the dirt. Judgement and reaction times are completely different since the ball gets to you quicker off the bat. These are some of the things Hamilton will continue to work on as spring training gets closer, especially since he said the last time he played first was during Legion ball in 1999. Hamilton did add that he’s work at the position in the past during batting practices and planted the seed with general manager Jon Daniels.
“I’ve kind of been hinting at it for a couple of years,” said Hamilton. “If I’m in the outfield, I’m going to go all out, I’m going to run into walls. That’s just the way I’m made. That’s just the way I play the game. If I don’t play it that way, I’m not going to enjoy it. I did mention it in passing here and there with JD and just think about ultimately what’s the biggest thing that they can want from me.”
The other challenge Hamilton faces is earning a roster spot on the team. He’ll have the opportunity in spring training, but nothing is guaranteed. The spot is open after Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland signed with the Red Sox during the offseason. The Rangers also have prospect Joey Gallo in the wings, who made a position shift from third to first last season in the minors. Plus, the Rangers are rumored to have interest in free agents Mike Napoli and Mark Trumbo, who like Hamilton fit under the first base/designated hitter category.
However, Hamilton is open to the challenge of fighting to make the team and feels like he still has a lot left in the tank.
“The first thing that comes to my mind was 2007 with the Reds; I had to make the team,” said Hamilton. “Remembering how much work I put in to make that happen, remembering how much fun it was because every day mattered. That mentality I feel like is back and I can take that into this spring training.”
If successful, it’s just another chapter in the story of Josh Hamilton. But there is still one thing missing from that story.
“The ultimate goal is to win the World Series.”