The 2011 Major League Baseball season, like any year, has had its share of surprises, from Ian Kennedy
's emergence as a possible Cy Young Award candidate to a slew of players who returned to the big leagues after years of absence
One of the most surprising turns, though, is the success of three
outfielders who have found big league jobs after starting out and
spending a large part of their careers as highly-touted pitching
After looking at veteran Rick Ankiel
in part one, this part will examine two players who are in a much earlier stage of their career turnarounds.
- OF, Houston Astros2011 Stats: 164 AB, .287 AVG, .348 OBP, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 4 SBCareer Pitching Stats (minor leagues): 329 IP, 14-21 record, 5.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 225 KLast Year as a Pitcher: 2008
While he never reached the big leagues as a pitcher, 27 year-old Houston Astros outfielder Brian Bogusevic was a first-round draft choice (24th overall) back in 2005 and, like Ankiel, was a lefthanded pitching prospect with high expectations. He showed some signs of success as a pitcher at the lower levels and had a passable 4.01 ERA for High-A Salem back in 2007, but he struggled badly at Double-A that year and in 2008 and allowed far too many hits and baserunners to be promoted further.
It was in 2008 that Bogusevic began his transition to hitter, and it started off very well with a .371/.447/.556 triple-slash (average/on-base/slugging) mark in 145 plate appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi that year. He also tallied three home runs and eight stolen bases in that time, which prompted a move to the outfield of Triple-A Round Rock for the start of the 2009 season. While his career hitting line at the Triple-A level is just .272, he has a solid .355 on-base percentage and has displayed passable home run power and good baserunning skills.
Those accomplishments paid off late last season when, on September 1, 2010, he made his major league debut as a pinch hitter. In that at-bat, Brian hit into a fielder's choice and stole second base before scoring on a Hunter Pence home run. Even at an advanced age for an up-and-comer, Bogusevic was included in Baseball America
's list of the Astros' top prospects (at number 27)
and was projected as someone who could carve out a big league career as a fourth outfielder.
This season, the Illinois native has impressed some doubters by hitting .287 with a .348 on-base percentage, 14 doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases. He's worked mainly in right field, where his strong throwing arm is more valuable, and will likely get a shot at a starting job in the spring. If he did, it would a very notable accomplishment for the former first rounder and, like Ankiel, could inspire other struggling minor league pitchers to consider a similar move to the field.Adam Loewen
- OF, Toronto Blue Jays2011 Stats: 32 AB, .188 AVG, .297 OBP, 1 HR, 4 RBICareer Pitching Stats: 164 IP, 8-8 record, 5.38 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 134 KLast Year as a Pitcher: 2008
The most recent former pitcher to make the successful transition to big league outfielder is Toronto's Adam Loewen, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft and spent part of three seasons as a starting pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles.
Loewen's metamorphosis to hitter was made mostly as a result of injuries, though he never really fulfilled the promise bestowed on him as a top-five first round pick. Unlike Ankiel and Bogusevic, Loewen did not make his transition with his original team and, instead, was granted free agency and in 2009 began his journey with class A Dunedin. He didn't fare particularly well there and hit just .236 with 4 home runs and 5 stolen bases in 335 at-bats, but he tallied a .340 on-base mark and began 2010 as a member of Double-A New Hampshire. That season, Loewen showed serious development and 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases, though he once again struggled with contact and hit just .246. However, he advanced another level and his 2011 season at Triple-A Las Vegas was much better.
In 134 games for the 51's this year, Loewen hit .306 with 17 homers, 85 RBI, 46 doubles, 11 stolen bases, and a .377 on-base average. Though he notched those stats as a member of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, it was still enough to warrant a September call-up from the Blue Jays. With the Jays, Loewen has proven himself pretty well with his athleticism on defense and signs of plate skills, though he hasn't exactly dominated at the plate. On September 11th, he blasted his first major league home run, a major triumph for a player whose injuries just a few years before had threatened to completely end his baseball career. It was particularly fitting that his homer came against the Orioles, his former team.
Like Ankiel and Bogusevic, Loewen isn't really expected to be more than a fringe starter or fourth outfielder in the big leagues, but at the age of 27 he still has plenty of good years ahead of him.
Overall, these three players are prime examples that baseball, much like life, does offer a chance to reinvent and transform one's self, even if that transformation requires one to abandon the work of the past and dreams of super-stardom.