Lansford Talks About Position Change

Josh Lansford will enter minor league spring training next month at a new position. Drafted from Cal Poly as a third baseman in 2006, Lansford spent the off-season and 2008 Instructional League making the transition to pitcher.

The manner in which the position change came about was almost by mistake, says Lansford. It occurred on August 31 of last season in a game against the Carolina Mudcats when Lansford was a member of the Class AA Tennessee Smokies.

"It was a complete blowout game," recalls the 24-year-old Lansford. "Our utility second baseman (Jose Made) went in to just close out the game because we didn't want to waste anymore pitching. I don't think he got anybody out and (Smokies manager) Buddy Bailey asked, ‘Can anybody else pitch?'

"I said, ‘I can at least throw strikes.'"

Lansford did more than that. The first pitch he fired registered 93 mph on the radar gun, and after the game, Bailey sent that particular tidbit in his nightly reports to Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita.

"They just thought that it (pitching) would be a good fit for me," says Lansford. "If that hadn't happened, I'd probably be going back to Tennessee and playing third base."

Instead, Lansford went to the Instructional League in Arizona last September and spent roughly a month getting comfortable on the mound.

He threw in front of Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins, who was initially concerned about Lansford's mechanics, the pitcher recalls.

"He didn't want me to get hurt or what not. It was still very experimental at that point," Lansford said. "He wanted to see if my mechanics were all right and if any major changes needed to be made before we totally backed into this.

"I went out and pitched and threw a bullpen for him, and he said everything looked great and that he doesn't think that I'll be injuring myself."

Lansford said that Riggins even loosely compared him to one of the instructor's former pupils during his tenure as a minor league coach in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system: right-hander Jason Motte, a former catcher.

Motte was converted to pitcher in time for the 2007 season, and last year he made 63 appearances from the bullpen at Class AAA Memphis, where he finished with a 3.24 ERA. He was recalled by St. Louis in September and made 12 appearances, allowing one earned run in 11 innings for a 0.82 ERA.

"It would be great if I could produce like him and get to the big leagues," Lansford said of Motte. "He (Riggins) calls about once a month to make sure I'm sticking to it."

Lansford isn't the only Cubs product to enter into the system as a position player and emerge as a pitcher. Carlos Marmol and Randy Wells were initially catchers at the low levels of the farm system, and both have gone on to log big league innings.

Recently, Luke Sommer and Jake Muyco also made the conversion to pitcher. Sommer was drafted by the Cubs as an outfielder; Muyco as a catcher.

Lansford said his teammates have been supportive of his move to pitcher.

"They kind of feel like I do," he said. "They know there are opportunities in pitching."

Lansford comes from good lineage, and he is not the first member of his family to give pitching a whirl. Though his father, Carney, is the most recognizable face of the family with 15 seasons as a major league third baseman, Jared Lansford was drafted as a pitcher by the Oakland A's in 2005. Last season, he advanced to Class AA Midland of the Texas League.

Lansford said his brother has given him tips on pitching, which he admits is "kind of weird."

"Obviously my brother has had great success pitching," Lansford said. "He's giving me pointers every day. He's teaching me a bunch of new pitches and mentoring me a little bit."

Lansford has also received tutelage from former A's pitcher Dave Stewart, who Lansford says has helped him shape his arsenal.

"I throw a regular curveball, a slider, a cutter and a changeup," Lansford said of his repertoire.

Giving up third base and everyday at-bats won't be easy, Lansford says. He was never thought of as a liability at the plate, and the Cubs thought enough of his offense to invite him to the 2007 Arizona Fall League.

He batted .273 in 84 games that season at Single-A Peoria, and missed the last two months of the season after suffering a sprained MCL.

"It was the hardest decision I've ever made as far as baseball goes," Lansford said of the decision to ditch his bat in favor of a spot on the mound.

"It's tough having so many tools at your disposal. I kind of wish they'd have given me a little more time, but I'm looking forward to pitching and there are a lot more opportunities, especially in our organization."

Lansford doesn't know what level he'll begin 2009, only that he expects to be "crawling out of the bottom of the barrel and starting all over." That could even mean a return to half-season ball.

"I'm excited to see what I've got," he said.

Northsiders Report Top Stories