When the Oakland A's drafted shortstop Grant Green in the first round of the draft in 2009, it wasn't with the intention that he would be a utility player.
But that's exactly what Green has been lately with Triple-A Sacramento. He's played everywhere except first base, pitcher and catcher with no clear answer as to where he projects best in the major leagues.
"That's a tough question," Sacramento manager Darren Bush said when asked where Green has played the best defense.
"I think he plays left field extremely well. I like him at third base. He plays well over there. But he hasn't had enough time over there. Because we're using him so much in so many spots we're not getting a consistent look at every spot. But that's OK. He's athletic. I would say he's best when he's on the baseball field."
Given his rapid improvement at the plate, Green's bat is close, if not ready, for a promotion to the big leagues, according to Sacramento coaches. The USC alum spent his first two professional seasons at shortstop before being moved to play the outfield exclusively last July with Double-A Midland and with the River Cats during the PCL post-season.
Not known as a patient hitter, Green has been making progress with his pitch selection and ability to work deep into counts. Through Monday, he was hitting .283/.327/.441 with eight home runs in 74 games. Last season with Double-A Midland, he hit nine homers in 127 games.
"The kid can hit. He's one of our best workers," River Cats hitting coach Greg Sparks said.
"He's had a routine the whole year and stuck with it offensively. He's learned to become more selective in his approach. He's a very aggressive hitter - fun to work with. Good knowledge of his swing – he knows what it feels like."
This year, Green had spent most of his time in left and center until making his first start back at shortstop on June 4. But that switch back to short was temporary, as he was penciled into the outfield for the following nine games. Then he started in the infield in eight of his next nine games before going back to the outfield for his last four starts.
If anything, the lack of routine has kept Green on his toes.
"I come in every day with something different but interesting in itself," Green said.
"Right now, it's just getting up there [to the majors]. I would love to be at second or short, somewhere in the middle of the diamond, that's where my value would be the highest.
"That's not my decision. If it were up to me, I would rather have never left short. They said that was the quickest way for me to get there. As long as I get there, that's all that matters. Maybe when I get there then I can find a position."
It's an interesting dilemma the A's have put themselves in. The decision to move Green to the outfield was made before the team landed Yoenis Cespedes with a four-year, $36 million deal to become the A's centerfielder. It's likely that without Cespedes, Green would be vying with A's 2010 top pick Michael Choice for the distinction of being the A's centerfielder of the future.
Green has received the most starts in the left field this year, and he could be a candidate for a promotion if the A's elect to move Coco Crisp (.298/.385/.429 over his last 23 games through Monday) before the trading deadline.
Third base also remains an intriguing option. When incumbent A's third baseman Scott Sizemore suffered his season-ending knee injury early in training camp, many wondered if Green would convert to the hot corner. It turns out the A's decided to keep Green in the outfield for the next three months rather than have him make that transition during spring training.
Mid-season acquisition Brandon Inge has solidified the position for the A's and will likely finish out the year there before Sizemore returns next spring. Green has only made five appearances at third this season.
"I've only played there a couple games," Green said about third base.
"It's been a struggle here and there. Me and Bushy have been working on kind of cutting down distance and getting to balls as quick as possible. It's something I love. I like being there."
The A's haven't been shy this season about plugging players into positions they might not be familiar with. Brandon Moss had played almost entirely in the outfield at Triple-A before Oakland called him up to play first base in the big leagues. The A's gave also gave Brandon Hicks a look at first base after only three minor league games-worth of experience at the position.
That's why it wouldn't be terribly surprising if Green was promoted to play any number of positions with the A's, as he has with Sacramento. The A's being non-committal about any single spot might mean that the organization is kicking the tires and looking at where Green might compete for a roster spot next March.
The most popular debate about Green as a hitter has always been his power potential. With High-A Stockton in 2010, Green hit 20 homeruns and slugged .520. But at 6'3" and 180 pounds, Green still has plenty of weight to gain, which could affect where he ends up playing defensively.
For a lot of players, the addition of weight and mass hinders their range and flexibility on defense. But as thin as he is, Green would have to gain a sizable amount before it would take away the possibility of him playing shortstop or centerfield, according to Bush.
"No doubt. He's pretty thin. Ten-to-15 pounds would be nothing to him. If it were 30-to-40 pounds, then there would be a difference," Bush said.
Green has been trying to gain weight with his diet and lifting weights, but it has been tough for him to do in-season with such a fast metabolism. He will likely fill out naturally as he gets older, but how much remains to be seen.
There remains the possibility of moving Green back to shortstop full-time. Current A's shortstop Cliff Pennington's lackluster on-base numbers paired with his decaying defensive metrics over the last three seasons could make him replaceable. But Green would have a lot of glove work to do to take over the most important defensive position in the infield after spending so much time in the outfield over the last 12 months. Green struggled defensively at shortstop with Stockton and Midland.
For now, Green has been told to be open to playing a number of positions to enhance his versatility, which could expedite his promotion to majors. Until then, he will continue to get looks all over the field.