Hale Likes Sidewinders Versatility; Patience

Chip Hale has a lot of flexibility in his everyday lineup for the Triple-A affiliate of the Diamondbacks. In fact his lineup Wednesday showed it off, second baseman Andy Green started at third the night before, third baseman Brian Barden was over at second two days ago, and shortstop Matt Kata has played four different positions in the last year for the Diamondbacks. Hale checks in to update his ever changing infield, Scott Hairston's progress in center, and Conor Jackson's timetable.

Tucson Sidewinders Manager Chip Hale knows he has it good.


"If my problem is trying to figure out where to play guys because they can play so many different positions, I'm happy with that problem." 


Hale is referring to his infield in Tucson, which now has the addition of the versatile Matt Kata, along with the already utility minded Andy Green, and second base/third base prospect Brian Barden


"We rotate things around.  For as long as Matt is here, he needs to play all three positions.  We're trying to get him at bats, and get him repetitions at second, short and third.  Today we had Matt at short, Andy at second, and Brian at third.  I'll probably have Sergio Santos in tomorrow at short, and have Matt at third base, and Brian at second." 


With some players the uncertainty of where, or if, they'll be playing can take its toll, but Hale doesn't think that's the case here. 


"Matt came up with all these guys except Santos," Hale reminds, "so they are all helping each other, they are all in the same age group.  Everybody understands, they know that Matt is going to get his at bats, but these guys also deserve a night off.  They've been playing a lot, without a lot of time off, and could use the rest."


Green in particular has certainly been earning his paycheck.  Wednesday's game marked his 14th straight game, at five different positions, without a day off.  His last off day was the Sidewinders last off day, back on the 27th of May.  If you count the designated hitter spot Green has played six positions for the Sidewinders this year, leaving off only first base, catcher, right field, and pitcher. 


Barden's tour of duty has been nearly as exhaustive, he's had only one off day since the 27th.


For Kata, time off hasn't been the problem.  Though he's appeared in 21 games for the Diamondbacks this season, he's logged only 25 at bats.


"When you don't play very often, it takes its toll, especially on your hitting, so it's great for him to be able to come to the park everyday knowing he's going to get at bats, going to be in the field.  It's just a good opportunity for him to reestablish himself." Hale says.


It's also great for Hale to have players with Major League experience on his roster.  In addition to Kata, at least six more of the Sidewinders position players have logged time in the Majors.  Scott Hairston has recently been in the Sidewinders lineup, and working on a new position, center field.  Hale says his progress defensively in center has been great.


"He's doing a good job out there, he's not a finished product yet, because up until last week he'd never been in center field.  Lorenzo Bundy is our hitting coach and our outfield coach, and he's been working a lot with Scott, but the ability is there.  He gets good breaks on the ball, takes good lines."


Hale cautions against calling Hairston's time in center field a 'move.' 


"He's not really switching positions.  He's been playing left a lot since last year, and I think for Scott it would just be great for him if he can handle center field to offer the Diamondbacks another option.  Those guys up there, Jose Cruz, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green, you look at their contracts, and they are locked in for a long time.  That means that for the guys down here versatility is going to be a plus, because if you can play two or three or four positions, you become more valuable to manager."


Last season Hale saw his players called up on an almost daily basis, and thinks that there is a double edged sword to the stability he has this season. 


"I'm sure it's tough on the guys here.  They are coming off a season where a lot of guys got called up and got opportunities, and this year that's just not going to be the case.  It's probably a little tougher, but they understand this is the game, and they know that the better they play here, the more likely it will be for them to get that call."


One player who has yet to crack the big league roster, but is making quite a case for a call up, is Conor Jackson.  When asked how long the Diamondbacks can keep Jackson, who's hitting .364 and has an on base percentage over .500, down on the farm, Hale's response is to focus on the long term.


"Let's be honest, it's the first time he's played first base, with maybe the exception of once or twice in college, and we're looking for this guy to have a 15 year career, not be rushed up there to fill a hole right now.  If there was a rash of injuries he's probably ready, but the Diamondbacks, and Conor, have been very patient.  He's doing a great job at first base and he's really impressed me.  I like him there, I think it's the best position for him, but he's still working in the outfield too.  In fact he'll be in left tomorrow."


Hale knows what his job is, development.  "I know what the big league club wants, they want me to work guys in where they can get at bats, get experience in the field, just get better.  This is what the minor leagues are for, to turn kids with talent into good ball players."


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