PORTLAND, Maine — Until his junior year of college, the only glove Aaron Bates had worn on a baseball diamond was a catcher’s mitt.
Less than three years later, the native of Manhattan, N.Y., is on his third glove and second positional change as he learns to play the outfield on the fly.
The catcher-turned-first baseman-turned-left fielder is back with the Portland Sea Dogs for a second season, but has gone from one side of the infield to the other side of the outfield after a coach suggested it a month ago at the Boston Red Sox spring training camp.
“They asked me if I wanted to work out in left and I said ‘Yeah, of course.’ I mean, the more positions you can play, the better,” said the 25-year-old righthander. “I definitely was open to it.
“It’s kind of fun to learn a new position. It’s almost like being a little kid and learning the game again.”
Bates has hit the ground running.
Through Thursday, he had started seven of Portland’s eight games and committed just one error despite limited experience.
“I’ve been out there every day the last four weeks, getting reps in spring training, and getting a feel for that wall out there. It’s different,” Bates said. “Just getting reads on the ball is the hardest part. You have to keep getting reps.
“You can’t really simulate live balls off the bat. It just goes to getting experience, and mostly about getting a read of the ball off the bat.”
Sea Dogs head coach Arnie Beyeler has been impressed with what he’s seen so far from the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Bates.
“He’s big, a good athlete and he’s real strong,” Beyeler said. “The more versatile you are the better, plus it gets him some more at-bats that way.
“He’s doing a good job out there and he’s got a good arm so that makes him more valuable. This way he can play outfield, DH, and first.”
With all of his previous experience, he could even be the team’s emergency catcher.
“Hey, I’d love to get behind there again,” he said. “Sure, I could do that.”
He had never been anything other than a catcher before his junior year at North Carolina State, but switching to first base had no negative effect on his play as he led the Wolf Pack in home runs, runs, slugging percentage, walks and on-base percentage.
Bates was named to the Cape Cod League All-Star team in 2005 and was drafted 83rd overall with Boston’s third round pick in the 2006 amateur draft.
Last season, Bates batted .276 with 11 home runs and 68 RBIs. This year, the cleanup hitter is off to a slow start, batting .206 with no homers and one RBI in his first 29 at-bats.
After being promoted a level each year as a pro, he’ll be entering his third season and second full one with Portland.
“For me, just give me a jersey and give me four at-bats,” Bates said. “I could be in Greenville or in Salem or Portland. As long as I’m playing every day, I’m good.
“I think it’s more beneficial for me to play every day at a lower level than playing once every six or seven days at a higher level.”
Bates isn’t worried about his offense. He’s struggled before. Last year, he had half (34) of his RBIs in May and June.
“I think for everyone, it’s just about consistency,” he said. “That’s what’s going to get you to the next level. I’m never really satisfied as a player and I’m always learning and trying to improve.”