Position Player to Pitcher
March 30th, 2009
The word “conversion” is used a lot in sports. In basketball, players try to convert the “old fashioned three point play” when getting fouled making a field goal. In football, team stats are judged on converting on third down or a two point conversion. But in baseball, the word “conversion” can be used to mean a lot of different things.
In today’s game, it seems that more and more players are being converted from pitcher to hitter or hitter to pitcher. Rick Ankiel is making a successful career out of being an outfielder after being converted from a pitcher. Even Craig Biggio made a major name for himself after being converted from a catcher to a second baseman to an outfielder.
In the Cincinnati Reds organization, two former future stars are trying to make it as pitchers, after spending most of their career with a bat in their hand.
Mark Christopher “Ben” Davis was the second pick overall in the 1995 amateur draft by the San Diego Padres as a promising catcher. David would spend seven seasons in the Padres organization and contribute 845 at bats at the major league level after almost 1,900 in the minor leagues.
Then in December of 2001, Davis along with two others, were traded to the Seattle Mariners for three players and cash. Davis would play 174 games behind the plate for the Mariners before again being traded in June 2004. Along with pitcher Freddy Garcia, Davis was dealt to the Chicago White for three players in return. After catching 54 games the rest of the season for Chicago, Davis was a free agent, but chose to re-sign with the White Sox.
Little did Davis know, but the 2004 season with the White Sox would be his last in the big leagues. Davis signed on with the New York Yankees in 2006 only to be released towards the end of the season, and then resigned five months later. His time in the Yankees minor league system was followed with stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles.
During the offseason before the 2009 season, Davis was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a pitcher, giving up calling games from behind the plate where he had been since signing with the Padres in 1995.
Davis is not finding the transition flawless, as his 31 year old body is finding the difference between catching and hitting to now throwing off a mound. There is no telling if Davis will be kept on and make any of the Reds minor league rosters, but you have to give Davis credit for trying.
The other player in Reds minor league camp trying to make the conversion to the mound is Jerry Gil. Gil was signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He would spend the next five seasons working his way through the Diamondbacks organization before receiving a call up to the big leagues in 2004.
Gil appeared in 29 games in the 2004 season for Arizona and received 86 at bats, knocking in eight runs and stealing two bases. The following the season, he was sent back to Double-A for the next two seasons. After the 2006 baseball season, Gil was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for minor leaguer Abe Woody.
In 2007, Gil was called up to the Cincinnati Reds major league team, but only appeared in one game, as a pitch runner following an RBI single by catcher Javier Valentin.
Late in the 2008 season, after bouncing around the minor league levels as a hitter, Gil started to take the mound in the Reds minor league system. He would throw a combined 18 innings in the Gulf Coast Rookie League and in the Florida State League (High-A). Gil was invited to instructional camp to continue working as a pitcher.
Minor league players tell me that Gil has a nice fastball with some zip on it and is developing a pretty good change and slider. Still only 26 years old, Gil has plenty of time to develop as a pitcher and become a rare ballplayer that has seen major league time as both a position player and a pitcher.
Like most professional ballplayers will say, “If someone will give you a uniform to wear, it really does not matter where they ask to play in it, as long as it fits.”