"Taxi Squad" Just Another Phrase to Coats

MESA, Ariz. -- In the Arizona Fall League, the phrase "taxi squad" means limitations to most. Those classified as a "taxi squad" player are restricted to participation in only two live games each week.

But Buck Coats isn't like most players. The left-handed hitting 23-year-old shortstop was one of seven Cub minor leaguers invited to the 2005 Arizona Fall League, and he's making the most of his limited playing time, which has been anything but limited in all actuality.

"I'm actually getting more work in than some of the other guys who aren't on the taxi squad," said Coats, who hit .282 in 127 games as the starting shortstop and occasional center fielder for Double-A West Tenn this past season. "I'm hitting more than most and taking more grounders."

And defense is precisely what Coats needs more than just the act of getting into games. He committed 34 errors in 94 games at short, which is less than either of his past two seasons. Coats committed 51 errors in 2003 at Class-A Lansing and 36 at Daytona last year. Little by little, his defense is improving, but there's still work to be done.

"I'm taking full advantage of the work," said Coats, drafted out of high school in Valdosta, Ga., in 2000. "I've been taking plenty of grounders at short and even at third. [Roving Infield Instructor] Jeff Huson has told me not to lose any of the knowledge I gained this year in the field and not to get away from that, and take as many grounders as I can. The more work I can get, the better."

So, Coats is up early every morning and to bed late every night--all for the sake of improving on both sides of the ball in hopes of one day soon making enough adjustments to warrant a chance at the major league level with the Cubs.

At short, it won't be easy. The Cubs already have the upstart Ronny Cedeno, and both Neifi Perez and Nomar Garciaparra could very well factor in the organization's plans on the left side of the diamond next year as well.

That doesn't deter Coats, however. Even if shortstop doesn't pan out, he has already gotten in some work at other positions in the field.

"I haven't heard what the deal is or what's going to happen," said Coats, when asked of any permanent position changes. "Whatever happens, I'm sure it will be in the best of my interests. As long as you're playing, it doesn't really matter where you play. As long as you're getting into the games, I don't think it matters."

For now, being in the Arizona Fall League with some of the top Double-A and Triple-A prospects is rewarding enough for Coats, who made the Southern League All-Star team this past season and was the Northern Division's starting shortstop.

"I enjoy it. You get to meet a lot of new players, guys you'll never otherwise meet," Coats said. "I've talked to some guys with experience in the higher levels at Triple-A and the big leagues. You hear what they have to say. I ask about the type of pitching they see. I've learned a lot, you know. I'm taking in as much as I can."

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