John Mayberry has faced some changes in his professional career already this season. He started the year hitting third in the order, then dropped to seventh in the order four games into the season. Now, he's back in the third spot, which is much more familiar to him and it's already paying dividends. "I don't mind [where he hits in the lineup. Third spot has its benefits. There are a lot of opportunities to drive in runs," said Mayberry.
Most hitters are used to moving around in the order though. After all, managers go through a variety of lineups through the course of a season and will sometimes move players around to help pull them out of a slump or take advantage of a hot bat. The bigger change is where Mayberry has been playing defensively; center field. Throughout his professional career, Mayberry has never played center, but that's now all changed. He got in a couple of innings in center Friday night before the rains came and wiped out the rest of the game. Saturday night, manager Dave Huppert had him back in center and he handled the three opportunities that he had without issue, including pulling in a fly ball near the track for the first out of the game. It's the old baseball theory that the ball will always find the guy playing a new position.
"Luckily, I was able to get to this one," laughed Mayberry. "That wouldn't have been a great start if I would have let it fall in."
Since he had just three chances - and none of them were extremely challenging - there's no telling how Mayberry will handle playing in center. The move didn't come as a complete surprise to him, since the Phillies had put him in center a little this spring during workouts and intra-squad games, but they never officially told the 26 year old that they would be putting him in center during the regular season. "It [playing center field] was on the radar, so I wasn't completely blind-sided," said Mayberry of the shift in position.
So, why the change?
The official reason is that the Phillies just want to give Mayberry some time in center to see how he handles the position. It's the theory that in case they needed someone to play center, Mayberry would be an option. For his part, manager Dave Huppert has been mum on why Mayberry is in center. "It's just something that we want to try," explained the third-year Lehigh Valley manager.
The practical reason is that it does make Mayberry a more versatile player. It wouldn't appear that he's going to have a regular spot in the Phillies outfield any time soon, so the more versatile he is, the more value he would have to them as a utility outfielder. To have a nice right-handed bat that can play the two corner outfield positions is nice, but to have that same bat and have him be able to play all three outfield positions is better.
Then, there's the conspiracy theorist's reason; The Phillies may be trying to make Mayberry more attractive to potential trade partners. After all, if Mayberry being more versatile would increase his value to the Phillies, it would also increase his value to other clubs. It's not like the IronPigs need another center fielder, since they already have three players on their roster who are perfectly capable of playing in center. And at the major league level, Jayson Werth could take over in center if anything happened to Shane Victorino and Ben Francisco has also played in center both in the minors and at the major league level.
Here is where we should probably note that there were three pro scouts from other clubs in attendance to see Mayberry's center field debut at Coca-Cola Park. The trade deadline is more than three months away, but there's no reason why something couldn't at least start brewing now or possibly develop into something well before the deadline.
None of the changes have slowed Mayberry's bat in the early going. His three hits - all doubles - Saturday night, upped his season average to .371 and has hit in seven straight games and eight-of-nine this season. Mayberry is hitting .462 (12-for-26) during his seven-game hitting streak, which leads the International League in hitting over that span. On Thursday night, Mayberry launched his first home run of the year and his two RBI Saturday night give him seven on the season.
For his part, Mayberry is just happy to be in the lineup and playing. He doesn't care where he hits in the lineup or where he plays in the field. There actually doesn't appear to be any reason why he couldn't play center; he has the speed, he's always shown good range in the corner positions and his arm is strong enough to make throws from the deepest parts of the field. No matter what the reason, moving Mayberry to center actually is a good idea. After all, he has definitely shown that he can handle change and even seems to welcome any new challenge that may come his way.
John Mayberry's Major League stats
John Mayberry's Minor League stats