The Mariners envisioned Jeff Clement as their catcher of the future when they used the No. 3 pick in the 2005 draft on him. Instead, he very well could be the Pirates’ first baseman of the present.
Clement, you’ll remember, was traded to Pittsburgh last July in the deal that brought Ian Snell and Jack Wilson to Seattle. The Mariners toyed with the idea of moving Clement to first, but the Pirates are committed to it. By all accounts, they really want him to win the starting job, and he is currently enrolled in a crash course on learning the defensive nuances of the position, taught by coach Carlos Garcia and manager John Russell. Yeah, the same Carlos Garcia who was a Mariner coach under Mike Hargrove; he’s now on Russell’s Pittsburgh staff as the infield guru.
I watched Clement work with Garcia for about half an hour today on a back field at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. He’s a little raw, and some ground balls were eating him up, but I think he’ll be OK by the beginning of the season. If the Pirates don’t like what they see, it’s likely that Garrett Jones will play first, but they’d rather have Jones in right and Clement at first. As GM Neal Huntington told me, “Our goal is to find out in spring training if he can be adequate there. And adequate is not a very strong word, but that’s truly our goal – can he be adequate there?”
By the way, that’s Jones in the picture taking grounders behind Clement while Clement works on handling throws.
Huntington said the Pirates love Clement’s left-handed bat and believe it’s tailor-made for PNC Park. They have concerns about how his knees would hold up as a catcher — he’s had two operations — and they’re satisfied with Moses Lake’s Ryan Doumit as the starting catcher.
“We had a hole on on the club where we felt his knees would be able to hold up over the long term,” Huntington said. “We felt now is a good time to take a shot at first base, because that’s probably his best position to play every day. That’s ultimately what led us to push him over there.”
Garcia told me that Clement is definitely a work in progress defensively, but he’s making strides.
“He’s doing a lot of early work and coming to the infield sessions,” Garcia said. “So far, it’s looking good. I mean, he’s getting better around the bag, taking ground balls. His hands are getting a little better. It’s going to take some time, but he seems to be more into it now. He knows he has a very good chance to make this club.”
Here’s what Clement said about moving to first: “Obviously, I love catching. I haven’t closed the door on it, by any means. But they contacted me this offseason and said this year I was going to be exclusively a first baseman.
“I look at it as a great opportunity, because I have a great chance to make the team. If I go out and execute and play to the best of my ability, I’m going to be pleased with whatever happens. To know the position change is because I have a great chance of making the team, I would obviously never argue with that.”