No, not really. I feel like they have communicated with me very well about what they plan to do with me. They have a plan for each guy and as long as no one is left out in the dark, no one is going to be upset or anything like that. They brought me here to learn to play other positions. I want to play them: left field, right field, third base at some point, and catcher. I'm only catching one or two days a week. Right now, I am putting a lot of concentration on learning those other positions.
When you bring in a guy like Casey McGehee to get some more catching experience, then someone has to go up. I don't know if I'd have as much flexibility up there as I do here because most of the guys up there are set in their positions. It's kind of a running joke around here that everyday I come into the locker room, I look for what number is next to my name for what position I will be playing. One day it might be seven; the next something different. I will tell you this, though: it really has helped me out a lot. I have a lot more energy playing other positions that are not as grueling as catcher. It's given me a lot more energy on a daily basis.
How have you adapted to the outfield? Do you like it out there?
It keeps me in the lineup every day. Do I miss catching every day? Yes, I do. But playing the outfield and playing first base, it keeps my body fresh and allows me to play every day. I love playing every day. If I'm going to come out here, it might as well be in the lineup. I might as well play and try to win the ballgame. One of the things I really love is that I'm able to come out here and play every single day. They put me out here originally to see if I can play some other positions. I think they've realized that I can.
It's going to help my value in the end because I'm just trying to fill a need and find an open door anywhere in the big leagues where I can fit in – if it happens to be in left field, first base, or right field. The trick is finding somebody who has a need for someone. If I can hit well enough and they have a need somewhere around the diamond, now I can fill those spots. I'm learning how to play all these positions now (whereas) before I kind of limited myself to catching. Every big league team only carries two catches, so you limit yourself to only 60 positions. Now, if I can play five positions on the field, how many guys can play all those positions on the field? You multiply that by 30 teams and you've got a much better chance of filling a need somewhere.
Especially when you've proven throughout your career that your bat is there.
That's one of the things I'm really hopeful about now that I'm learning these positions. Any player will tell you that we don't care how we get to the big leagues; we just want to get there. We want to play at the highest level, perform at the highest level, and play against the best. This is just the road to get there and however I can, I'm going to get there. In left field, it's a new mindset. Sometimes there's not a whole lot going on. Sometimes you're out there running back and forth for nine innings and sometimes you might go nine innings without even getting a ball. Once I really learned that mindset and learned how to prepare myself for each at-bat while not having much to think about, that's when I really started to take off and hit the ball. I think it was just getting used to different mindsets and different positions. Now that I've kind of gotten left field and first base down a little, you forget about trying to learn and just think about trying to perform.
Any pre-season goals accomplished yet?
One of the goals that I made for myself is that I wanted to be that go-to guy. Right now, it is really a learning situation for me. But I just want to be that guy. That's just me and my personality. Everyone is like that, though. You want to be that guy to come through for your team. As a kid, you always dream about bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, down by three and two outs. You know everyone dreams that. I want to take that with me so when we are in that situation, I want everyone to say, "he's the one we want up here," Right now, we have a lot of guys that could come through on this team. There are a lot of great players.
The fans here in Tennessee love you. How does that affect you?
It feels great; it's a huge compliment. You always dream about being able to step out on the field and being able to affect people; to bring joy to the fans. I just think that's what it's all about: people being able to come to the park and spend time together. If I can be that common ground for a father and daughter to enjoy spending time together, then it is worth making all the sacrifices; the sacrifices of being away from your own family for so long. It's a great feeling to be able to affect people through this game.
We talked about hitting earlier and you were hitting pretty well even before your recent tear (.361 average in May). What else are you doing differently now?
I haven't really been doing things a whole lot different other than just trying to see the ball better. I was really battling myself earlier in the season because one of my weaknesses as a hitter is pitch selection; plate discipline; swinging at a lot of pitches. So I was really battling myself early in the season about what pitches to swing at and what not to.
Lately, I've said to heck with it and if I can reach it, I'm going to hit it. I think it's really been working out for me because it's amazing the number of pitches you watch go by that you later say you could have gotten a barrel on. Now instead of guessing which ones I'm going to swing at and which ones I'm not, I say if you can hit it, hit it.
Were you upset when one of the prospect publications said that you suffered from a lack of concentration behind the plate?
No. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion and really the only opinions that matter to me are the ones in this organization, because they're the ones that are going to decide my fate. I'm sure over the years there are going to be a lot of people that write things that could or couldn't offend me. I try to stay away from it because it doesn't really bother me. Everyone can say or do what they want and have their opinions, but again when it comes to opinions that matter, it's the ones in this organization and those around me that matter to me. If my pitching staff has something they want to share with me to help me get better, I'm more than willing to listen to it. If one of them says something demeaning to me, I might get a little upset. But anyone outside of this organization, it really doesn't bother me.
(Steve Holley contributed to this story.)