The outfield was foreign territory to Carlos Asuaje before April. Generally, he left his footprints in the middle of the infield. The Red Sox knew that when they drafted him out of Nova Southeastern University in the 11th round last year.
He was at home for the 14 games he played at second base last year in low-Single A Lowell, and even when he tested the water at third base for 37 games there was a certain comfort in the crack-of-the bat reaction time and the pitch-to-pitch concentration level.
But on the last day of spring training this year, the Red Sox’ roving outfield coordinator, George Lombard, pulled Asuaje aside.
He told Asuaje, “Hey, I’m headed to Greenville for my first road trip. We’re going to do a little outfield work with you to see how you look out there and maybe get you playing a few games out there.”
Asuaje wasn’t going to argue.
“I took it in stride and took it for what it was,” he said.
Fifteen games into the season, Single A Greenville manager Darren Fenster decided to throw Asuaje into left field.
“I didn’t even know where to stand, really,” Asuaje said. “It seemed like every single pitch I was just creeping closer and closer to the infield.”
He was used to the crack of the bat being his starter’s pistol, regardless of whether the ball was hit in his vicinity or not.
“They hit a couple balls to center field, and with my experience I was just chasing the ball like a dog,” he said. “Just running after the ball. It took a few balls for me to gauge like, ‘OK, this is his ball. This is my ball.’ It took a little bit of learning and me getting absolutely exhausted running around all over the place before I started realizing like, ‘OK, these are the limits and the boundaries where left field stops and center field starts.’
“But it’s one of those things where it’s just a gradual process and I think after taking a bunch of reps, I just kind of progressed.”
But there’s value in versatility, and Asuaje knows it.
Through high school and college, Asuaje considered himself a one- or two-position player. But he also considered himself adaptable.
He’s bounced around in the field and at the same time he’s gotten used to hitting in a completely different part of the order. By and large, Asuaje’s speed made it easy to plug him in at the top or bottom of the lineup. With the Drive, he’s been used in the 5-hole, and he’s thrived as a run-producer, hitting .314 with four home runs, 23 extra-base hits, and 34 RBIs in 46 games.
“I like to think it’s a good thing to show that I’m versatile and I can pretty much play anywhere and hit anywhere in the linuep,” Asuaje said.
Swihart a top dog
There’s so much talent at Double A Portland that it can be easy to lose track of catcher Blake Swihart, who has caught 37 of the team’s 53 games this season while hitting .299 with five homers and 24 RBIs.
What pops off Swihart’s stat sheet is his power numbers. In 92 games with Single A Greenville two years ago, he hit seven homers and drove in 53 runs. Last season with high-Single A Salem, he concentrated on hitting for average (.298) at the expense of the long ball (two homers in 103 games).
This season, he’s providing both.
A year ago, Swihart hit .279 and slugged .404 from the left side of the plate and hit .367 with a .519 slugging percentage from the right.
This season, he’s still torching lefties, hitting .346 entering Thursday with four homers in 52 at-bats. Against righties, he’s at .280 but with 11 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 100 at-bats.
Three to watch
Henry Owens, Portland: Another start, another gem for the lefthanded prodigy. Owens tossed seven shutout innings Thursday in a 2-1 win over New Britain, striking out five and giving up just three hits. He’s given up just one run over his last four starts.
Jantzen Witte, Greenville: The 24-year-old first baseman has a swing like a forehand tennis shot, but it’s working. In his previous 13 games entering Thursday, Witte was hitting .319 with four doubles, two homers, and 13 RBIs. He went 2 for 4 with three runs and three RBIs in Wednesday’s 7-5 win over Charleston.
Shannon Wilkerson, Pawtucket: After spending parts of three seasons with Portland, a promotion to Triple A was a long time coming for the 25-year-old outfielder. He’s made an immediate impact with three runs and five RBIs in his first four games.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.