Trumbo confident he can handle third base
Young slugger has never played the position in pro career
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the batting cage and screens are removed from the field following Angels batting practice, that generally means it's time for the players to head to the clubhouse for a pregame meal.
For Mark Trumbo on Thursday, it meant time for more ground balls.
Later lunch is only one sacrifice Trumbo has had to make in the wake of the Angels signing superstar first baseman Albert Pujols. With Pujols on the roster, the Angels have scrambled to find a spot for the 26-year-old, who came in second in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting last season.
That spot may come at third base -- a position Trumbo hasn't played professionally. With little experience at the hot corner, Trumbo said he's put almost his entire Spring Training focus on learning the position.
"I feel good over there, and I'm confident I'm going to get it," said Trumbo after working a round of soft-hit grounders before Thursday's game. "Realistically, there's probably going to be some [tough] plays. But I feel I can make the routine plays, and I'm going to get better over there."
Trumbo is thrilled with the Pujols signing, even if it means a significant career move for him. The way he sees it, he's happy as long as he's in the lineup and the team is winning.
It'll be hard to deny the powerful Trumbo a spot in the starting nine after he posted a .254 average with 29 homers and 87 RBIs last season. The Angels could also use him as a corner outfielder, but with Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells on the club, he wouldn't be guaranteed playing time there.
"I'm trying to be as versatile as I can," Trumbo said. "I really can play four positions -- and DH, too. I have to be versatile because I guess there's really no set spot yet."
This spring, he's been working hard to make third base that "set spot." He's played a few games there and hasn't seen too much work, though on Wednesday he looked solid on a couple balls to his left.
Bench coach Rob Picciolo and first-base coach Alfredo Griffin have been tasked with overseeing the Trumbo transition. On Thursday, Picciolo hit Trumbo grounders both during and after batting practice, while Griffin instructed Trumbo as he fielded.
Also vital in the process has been third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who has aided Trumbo despite having his playing time threatened by the move. There was a light-hearted moment during Thursday's pregame while Callaspo was working on hitting the ball to the opposite field and Trumbo was taking grounders at the same time.
Callaspo, batting left-handed, interrupted Trumbo's routine by hitting four or five sharply-hit balls his direction. Trumbo snagged every one of them, causing Callaspo to raise his fist and yell, "Hey! Trumbo!" as he exited the batting cage.
It hasn't always been that smooth for Trumbo, but Griffin praised his mentality as the right one for the daunting task of switching positions on the fly.
"If you say to him, 'You can't do this,' he's going to prove you wrong, and that's beautiful," Griffin said. "That's what he's doing right now. He's showing us that he can play."
Griffin, who played mostly shortstop with some third base sprinkled in during his 18-year big league career, said the key is for Trumbo to find a comfort zone. For the coaching staff, that means not overloading him with too much information at once.
"We hit a ground ball, he picks it up, throws to first base, and we correct the mechanics once in a while," Griffin said of the team's philosophy on transitioning Trumbo. "We're not putting too much in his head. We're just letting him develop by himself."
One area Trumbo admittedly needs work on is fielding and throwing slow rollers. He spent much of Thursday's post-workout fielding session trying to improve that area.
Given Trumbo's 6-foot-4 frame, Griffin said the slow roller will always be a tough ball for him to get low on and twist for the accurate throw.
But Trumbo pointed to a play in Monday's game as a turning point in his development. Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon dropped a perfect bunt in the first inning that Trumbo charged, fielded and made an accurate throw to first. The speedy Gordon was safe, but Trumbo executed the play as if he'd been doing it for years.
It's likely Trumbo will spend some time at DH for the Angels, specifically early on while they wait for Kendrys Morales to get healthy. But as soon as manager Mike Scioscia needs Trumbo at third, he says he's comfortable using him there.
"He's shown the agility that you need at third, which we expected to see," Scioscia said. "I think he's slowly getting acclimated to some of the footwork and the throw across, but he's been catching the ball well."
For now, Trumbo wants as much work as he can get, as often as possible.
"Every time I go out there, I'm hoping to get at least a couple different looks and a couple different plays to help me progress as fast as I can," Trumbo said.
The faster he progresses, the faster he'll find that niche he's been looking for all spring.
AJ Cassavell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.