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7 players excelling at new positions 

7 players excelling at new positions 

4:16 AM UTC

Versatility is key in Major League Baseball. But with that in mind, it’s important to remember that not all versatility is created equal. For some players, positional flexibility is their calling card; for others, it’s born out of necessity. But regardless of how it comes about, there are few things more impressive in baseball than a player succeeding while playing a new position.

Don’t believe us? Here’s a list of seven players finding success at new positions in 2022.

Note: All statistics are through Wednesday’s games.

Luis Arraez, 1B, Twins

Playing first base for the first time in his career

Another year, another position for Arraez.

Even with all that shuffling, Arraez’s bat hasn’t slowed down. Along with leading the league in hitting (.354 average) and on-base percentage (.438), La Regadera has continued his trend of being an excellent table-setter, as he’s scored 34 runs and recorded 21 RBIs while hitting mostly out of the leadoff spot.

Although all signs point towards Arraez moving back to second or third when Kirilloff is called up from Triple-A, his emergency coverage of first base has been a boon for a Twins team that leads the AL Central.

Trevor Story, 2B, Red Sox

Playing second base for the first time in the Major Leagues

After playing exclusively at shortstop during his six years in Colorado, Story signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Red Sox in the offseason with the understanding that he’d be playing second base in the short term.

Whether it was due to the position change, new team, or some combination of the two, Story had a sluggish start to the year and batted .196 through his first 34 games in Boston. But then something clicked. From May 16 to May 22 Story went nuclear, batting .360 with six home runs and 14 RBIs en route to being named the AL Player of the Week.

Even though Story has cooled down since his torrid mid-May stretch, he’s still providing plus defense (he has four outs above average in his first action at second base since Double-A) and pop in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. Additionally, Story’s 42 RBIs are tops in baseball among second basemen.

Santiago Espinal, 2B, Blue Jays

Playing second base for the first time in the Major Leagues

When Marcus Semien signed his seven-year, $175 million contract with the Rangers last December, the Blue Jays’ second base situation suddenly became murky, as Semien slugged 45 home runs and drove in 102 runs at second base for Toronto in 2021. As the Blue Jays arrived at Dunedin, Fla., for Spring Training, it seemed as if the team was planning on replacing that production with some combination of Espinal and Cavan Biggio.

Thus far, that plan has worked.

After jetting around Toronto’s infield in his first two years with the club, Espinal has taken over the keystone this season, slashing .298/.350/.451 with five home runs and 31 RBIs while providing some bottom of the lineup production for a stacked Toronto lineup.

Not only is Espinal making every at-bat count (91st percentile in whiff percentage and 88th percentile in expected batting average), but he’s also playing stellar defense, as evidenced by him being in the 97th percentile in outs above average. Espinal’s consistent, all-field approach fits perfectly in a Blue Jays lineup filled with power.

Tommy Edman, SS, Cardinals

Serving as Cardinals’ primary shortstop

A Gold Glove Award winner at second base last season, Edman entered the year as one of the best overall defenders in baseball. After starting the year at second base, Edman moved to shortstop after the Cardinals optioned shortstop Paul DeJong to Triple-A in May (sensing a trend here?)

While Edmundo Sosa and rookie Brendan Donovan have had some run at shortstop, Edman has stuck at short, with 48 of his 63 appearances coming there. The position switch is a return to Edman’s roots, as he primarily played shortstop in college.

The move has been part of a career year for Edman, as he leads the National League in WAR (3.9) and is second in dWAR (1.4). Along with showing more power this year (he has seven home runs and is in the 89th percentile in maximum exit velocity), Edman’s batting .285 and leads baseball with 15 steals.

Eli Morgan, RHP, Guardians

Moved to bullpen after starting last year

After having an up-and-down rookie season as a starter in 2021 (5-7, 5.34 ERA), Guardians manager Terry Francona elected to have Morgan begin this season as a long man in the Cleveland bullpen as opposed to sending him down to Triple-A as a starter. Thus far, the decision has turned out to be genius.

Over the past month, Morgan has emerged as a bona fide high-leverage reliever who looks just as comfortable getting one big out as he is going multiple innings.

In his 12 appearances since May 13, Morgan boasts a spotless 0.00 ERA with five holds over 16 1/3 innings. Seven of those appearances have lasted longer than an inning.

The key for Morgan’s success has been the emergence of his wipeout changeup, which is beginning to look like one of the best pitches in baseball. While Morgan had success with the pitch last year (opponents batted .174 against it in 2021), he’s taken things to a new level in 2022, as hitters are batting a measly .086 off the pitch. That dominance, coupled with a fastball that’s 1.5 mph faster on average, are two big reasons why the secret’s out on the Guardians’ “secret weapon.”

Jorge López, RHP, Orioles

Moved to the bullpen full-time

“Stuff” was never Jorge López’s problem. For three years, López teased Royals fans by always appearing to be on the cusp of figuring it out, with the biggest example coming in 2018 when he took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Twins. But for every good start, there seemed to be four or five clunkers where López looked lost on the mound. After giving up two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning on July 26, 2020, the Royals designated López for assignment, where he was promptly scooped up by Baltimore.

After working as a starting pitcher for parts of 2020 and 2021, the O’s moved López to the bullpen last August, where he had a 2.16 ERA over 8 1/3 innings before missing the last month of the season with a right ankle sprain.

This year, López has finally put it together, and in turn has become a lights out closer for Baltimore. Through 27 appearances, López is 3-3 with a 0.85 ERA and nine saves for a Baltimore relief corps that has the seventh-best bullpen ERA in baseball (3.29).

One of the biggest keys for the 29-year-old has been velocity. López’s average sinker velocity is up to 97.7 mph (up two miles per hour from last year), which has led to him throwing it more (51.4 percent usage) and with more effectiveness (opponents are batting .153 off it). As a starting pitcher, López’s undoing always seemed to be his second and third time through the order, as evidenced by his career 7.07 ERA in innings four through six. As a reliever, López only has to worry about one or two innings, and, in turn, has transformed into a different pitcher.

Wil Crowe, RHP, Pirates

Moved to bullpen after starting last year

Less has proven to be more for Wil Crowe.

After coming over to the Pirates in the Josh Bell trade, Crowe was unimpressive as a starter for Pittsburgh in 2021, going 4-8 with a 5.48 ERA in 116 2/3 innings. In Spring Training, Pirates manager Derek Shelton shifted Crowe towards a bullpen role in the hopes it would help the 27-year-old hurler unlock a different part of his game.

Crowe started the year on a tear, going 13 1/3 innings before allowing a run, and currently boasts an ERA of 2.13 with 38 strikeouts over 38 innings. As a starter, Crowe’s biggest problem was keeping the ball in the park, as he gave up an average of 1.93 home runs per nine innings last year, the seventh-highest mark among pitchers with at least 110 innings. This year, Crowe’s giving up an average of 0.50 home runs per nine innings.

The advanced metrics back up Crowe’s success as well, as he ranks above the 90th percentile in expected ERA, barrel rate, expected batting average and expected slugging, and is in the 100th percentile in hard-hit rate.

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