When the Cincinnati Reds had the seventh-overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Joey Votto was a rookie. In his age-23 season at triple-A in 2007, he hit .294/.381/.478 in 580 at-bats. Good, not great. While the Reds were right to think that Votto would be their first baseman of the future, there was no way they could just ignore the crop of highly touted amateur first basemen in the draft. Votto wasn't a given at that point, and when you let the young players in your organization dictate how you choose your first-round picks, you can end up with Yuniesky Betancourt instead of Troy Tulowitzki.
The Reds used the pick on who they thought was the best player available, Yonder Alonso, and didn't look back. If there was a logjam in the future, hey, that's a good problem, right?
Well, we're here. Votto isn't going anywhere, and the Reds want to break Alonso into the big-league lineup. The answer appears to be simple: Alonso has played 92 games in left field in the minors, and the position is being held down by Chris Heisey and Fred Lewis at the major-league level -- not exactly long-term fixtures.
But the Reds have other ideas; they're having Alonso take grounders at third base:
Starting on Tuesday, Alonso was instructed to start taking ground balls at third base and to work with coach Chris Speier at that position. Alonso has only played left field and first base professionally.
"Maybe I can get in there and, obviously, it will give me more value to the team if I can do that," Alonso said on Wednesday. "Third base was my position growing up. It comes easier than the other two positions."
If it works, the Reds could be set at the corners for a decade. If it works, the Reds will have done something that few others have attempted. There have been 131 players over the past ten seasons who have played more than 100 games at third in the majors. Here's how they break down by their primary minor-league position:
No surprises, really. Over 93% of the third basemen played more games as an infielder in the minors than any other position. The lone outfielder is a bit of a cheat, too, as it was Melvin Mora, who was a utility player even as a young minor leaguer.
Of the four players who were primarily first basemen, most of them still had minor-league experience at the hot corner. Shea Hillenbrand played 170 games at first before he was called up, but he also played 124 at third (and 142 at catcher!), so he was familiar with third base. Robb Quinlan was drafted as a third baseman and played third in the low minors, so when he became a utility player in the majors, he picked up about 30 games at third every year for the Angels. That's almost the same path that Herb Perry had, though he even became a starter at third for the Rays and Rangers.
Innings at third base, career: 1534
Yikes. UZR isn't the final word on defense, but it's rare to see numbers that poor over 1000+ innings.
Of course, Alonso isn't Munson. Just because one player tried to make the switch in the past decade and didn't do so hot, it doesn't mean that similar experiments will fail. But it's rare to see it even tried, and it should be noted that the Reds haven't tried anything yet. It's possible that after a couple of infield sessions, the experiment will mercifully end.
There is one example from the past ten seasons, though, that might leave room for optimism. The Giants brought up a pudgy catcher from the minors and tried him out at third. He had played third in the minors, but not since he was 19 and in low-A. The idea to try him a third in the majors was borderline insane, but three seasons later, Pablo Sandoval leads the world in UZR.
It's possible that Yonder can stick at third. It's possible that he can thrive. It's just really, really, really rare to try it at the major-league level. On a team with Joey Votto, it's worth a shot.