PEORIA, Ariz. - Jack Hannahan probably should have seen his future when every team that contacted him before the 2001 draft asked if he'd be willing to convert from third base to catcher.
“The only team that didn’t ask that drafted me,” Hannahan said.
Of course, the Detroit Tigers later made him a second baseman. And once Oakland acquired him in trade, Hannahan played third base, second base and first base.
Then Don Wakamatsu and the Seattle Mariners got their hands on him last summer.
“I feel comfortable putting him anywhere on the field,” Wakamatsu said Thursday. “He can play anywhere in the infield, and he’s probably the best defensive third baseman we have. He can play the outfield, too.”
Oh, and this winter Hannahan got a telephone call from Wakamatsu.
“He told me I’d have the opportunity to learn (catcher) if I came in to camp early,” Hannahan said. “I now have a whole new appreciation for what catchers go through physically.”
In fact, the 30-year-old Hannahan has an appreciation of every position he has played or been asked to play. And over the course of the 2010 season, he’s liable to find himself at any or all of them, which suits him fine.
The irony, he said, is that he was always considered a better hitter – he batted .353 in three seasons with the University of Minnesota – than a defensive player.
After batting .273, .269 and .282 in consecutive minor league seasons, Hannahan wound up playing third base in Oakland when Eric Chavez went down with an injury.
“I hit .278 and thought I did a pretty good job that season,” Hannahan said. “I’m the kind of hitter who can go the other way with a pitch, pull it if it’s inside, do things with the ball. The last two years, I haven’t hit like I can.”
In 290 big-league games – 856 total at-bats – his lifetime average is .224, his on-base percentage .311.
“What Jack brings is athleticism, defense and, I think, a better bat than he’s shown,” Wakamatsu said. “I can see him giving a lot of guys a breather this season in a lot of positions.”
Because he’ll be playing all over the diamond, why not take a quick tour with Hannahan, position-by-position:
First base: “That’s a position I’ve played when a guy has been hurt, or late in games when maybe the first baseman wasn’t a great defensive player. It’s easier on the body than the other infield positions,” Hannahan said.
“The job is holding runners on base and taking throws – saving bad ones.”
Second base: “Detroit told me when there were three days left in the spring of ’06 that I was going to become a second baseman. It took me a full year to get used to it, especially turning a double play when you take a throw with your back to the runner,” Hannahan said.
“The footwork is completely different, you see the ball off the bat at a different angle, but I’ve always liked playing there.”
Third base: “I’ve played there since high school, so I’ve always been my most comfortable at third. It feels natural. I love playing in close to the hitter. It’s a reaction position, where you’ve got to be quick, able to charge a bunt and throw from a lot of different angles.”
Shortstop: “You’re a lot farther from the plate at short than anywhere else in the infield, and you can usually get better hops playing deeper. You can see the signs from the catcher, so you know what the pitch is going to be and where.
“You get to call infield plays, you get a lot more action, and I like being involved in everything. The first time I ever played shortstop was last year – in the big leagues.”
Outfield: “I’ve played left and right, but never center. The only way to practice is to shag during batting practice, watch how the ball hooks or tails. When I’m not hitting or taking ground balls, I’m shagging in the outfield.”
Catcher: “It’s an education, just learning what it is pitchers try to do and how catchers control it. It’s physically grinding, especially on the legs.”
Overall, Hannahan said, he likes moving around the field, enjoys having a locker filled with different gloves for each position.
“It’s not something a lot of people can do, playing a lot of positions,” he said. “When you’re a reserve, you’ve got to get your head right. It might be a week or two without an at-bat, days between even getting in a game defensively.
“I have to be ready to play anywhere, and make the plays there. It’s a challenge I enjoy, and one I work on every day.”