PORTLAND, Maine — The Boston Red Sox drafted him as a catcher, but he’s been a designated hitter most of this season, and he’s learning how to play either right or left field as well for the Portland Sea Dogs.
Oh, and he’s also logged a lot of time at first base.
Sound confusing? Well, Jon Still is handling his newfound versatility pretty well, but even he sometimes forgets which group he’s practicing with, or even what glove he needs to bring out onto the field.
“I’ve been out in left with a first baseman’s mitt before, but not because it was the wrong glove. It’s because it was the only one I had,” Still said with a smile. “The outfielders on this team have been really good about letting me borrow their gloves.”
Still’s clubhouse locker looks more like a sporting goods store room these days as he tries to earn as much playing time as he can, at any position.
“I called a pretty good amount of games last year, but they did tell me I’d be trying some other positions this year,” Still said. “Anything I can do to get reps in the field is a good thing. I’m happy with how much playing time I’m getting and how they’re trying to get it for me.”
So far this season, Still has played 64 games at DH, 25 games at first, and one at catcher.
“They’re going to try and find me a spot in the lineup and it’s up to me to show them I can play there consistently well,” he said.
Despite the position shuffle, Still has played consistently well defensively and offensively. Going into Friday night’s game against New Hampshire, he had committed just two errors.
The 24-year-old righthanded power hitter is batting .234 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 62 RBIs.
“He’s a power-hitting guy who can drive the ball all over the place and drive in runs,” said Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler. “I think he’s always been a hitting machine, so we’re just trying to find a spot for him to play. He’s worked hard and he’s really improved at playing in the field.”
The need to find him a spot arose due to the solid catching of 2005 ninth-round draft pick Mark Wagner, who Baseball America calls “the best defensive catcher” in the Red Sox organization.
“I think it’s just a product of the Red Sox organization, which has logjams pretty much everywhere,” Still said. “If you’re stuck behind a bunch of other good guys, they’ll try to find another position for you to play.”
Or several.… Still has come up with his own pregame system which varies depending on what he’s listed for on the lineup card.
“If I’m DH, I’ll usually play left field, catch, and play first base in warmups,” said the Madison, Wis., native. “If I’m at first, I’ll take all my reps there.”
His favorite alternate position so far? First base.
“It’s good to DH because the only thing you have to concentrate on is your hitting, but it’s also bad because if you have a bad at-bat, you can’t go out into the field and forget about it as easily,” he said. “With a bad at-bat as DH, you have another 45 minutes or so to sit around and keep thinking about it.”
So what about the outfield?
“I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable, but I will be ready. Comfort is something you get after you’ve been there a few times,” Still said. “I’ve been able to get some pretty good work in out there. I’m still doing the catching thing, but it’s shifted more to first base and left field as far as practice.
“I feel really comfortable at first now, but ironically I’m a little shaky catching because I haven’t done as much of it.”
Still’s coaches have been pleased with the progress he has shown as well as his attitude.
“He’s taken to first base pretty well, and that’s an easier position to play from his standpoint and to get reps out there, but he’s athletic enough to be an outfielder,” Beyeler said. “I think he could be a good left or right fielder.
“I just think you try to put guys in positions to succeed and be good players. If you can move them around a bit, it increases their value, as long as they can be successful and not be a jack of all trades and master of none.”