Jemile Weeks moves to center

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 30, 2013 at 6:07 PM

Jemile Weeks made his first professional start outside of the infield yesterday (excluding DH), putting away six outs in six chances in center field. Weeks made his professional debut in 2008 and played second base exclusively until this year, when he's played 21 games at shortstop and, now, one game in the outfield.

Even if I were a scout, one game, six chances (plus however many fell for hits), would not be enough to judge Weeks's present skill in the outfield. Further, projections of his future skill at the position are extrapolations of his physical tools—how is his speed, how is his arm, how's his first step—but for a long-time infielder, the biggest questions are how he reads the ball off the bat, how he runs the routes, how he plays the wall. There's simply no way anybody can know this because while a first step is a first step in terms of physical quickness, the direction in which you take that first step, the delay you introduce in taking it, are so wholly different in the infield and the outfield as to render discussions of his defensive skill pure guesswork.

(Even as to Weeks's arm, it's hard to say. He doesn't have the most impressive hose you'll ever see at second, but the throwing mechanics are so different in the outfield that it's hard to make a real judgment, especially when you factor in the accuracy question. Rick Ankiel couldn't even hit the catcher, much less the strike zone, by the time he quit being a pitcher, but he made some of the greatest throws any of us have ever seen in the outfield.)

You can tell different stories about what the start in center field ("moves" was probably an overstatement in the title of this post) means for Weeks's career. On the one hand, with Grant Green and Hiro Nakajima in Sacramento and with utilityman Andy Parrino needing to stay at least a little bit fresh and with the A's apparently having decided that Green's time in center is done, middle infield time for the River Cats is scarce. If Green were to get called up to Oakland tomorrow, Weeks would probably move back to second faster than you can say "Jemile Weeks moved back to second base because Grant Green got called up." Which, I don't know about you, but I can talk real fast when I need to.

On the other hand, the team generally has a logjam of guys both in the big leagues and Sacramento, and you find a way to get time for the players you think have a future/present at the positions you're asking them to play. What that says (although, really, we could have said this a month ago, probably) is that Grant Green has surpassed Jemile Weeks on the second base depth chart, which you might also surmise from their batting lines:

Green: .320/.379/.509
Weeks: .265/.383/.364

The walking by Weeks is very encouraging, but, shoulder injury notwithstanding, the inability to crack a .100 isolated slugging in the Pacific Coast League is discouraging. Green isn't walking as much, but that's never been his game, and he is hitting for power. The scouting reports I've read on Green aren't glowing, precisely—I detect a sort of "he'll have to be Michael Young to be a good major-league player" vibe—but he seems to be emerging from the 2011–12 that he spent doing absolutely nothing to impress anyone. (He wasn't bad in 2012, note, but he didn't hit anywhere near enough to have any confidence in the idea of Green as a top prospect.)

The flip side of the negativity is that if Weeks can show versatility, then he lowers the bar on his bat to earn a major-league salary. I'm not sure what odds you'd put on him being an impact player at this point (1%? Less?), but can he be a 25th man? You'd like your utility man to be able to play short, but Weeks can probably cover it in a pinch, and don't forget the Earl Weaver maxim: your backup shortstop is in Triple-A. Is Weeks any worse than Eric Young, Jr.? Young's got 900 major-league plate appearances in parts of five years, playing second base and all three outfield spots. Weeks can aspire to more (Young was a 30th round draft pick despite the bloodlines) but there's a path forward even if he can't live up to his prospect hype.