Grant Green, second baseman of the moment for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was as surprised as anybody when his manager in Sacramento, the Triple A team for the Oakland Athletics, approached him two weeks ago.
"I was getting ready to play one of the games we had there," recalled Green, looking every bit the Southern California product he is, with wavy brown hair, stylish stubble and a laid-back smile, on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. "We'd just had the national anthem. And just as I was about to go out, our skipper, Steve Scarsone, told me not to go out."
Green hadn't been traded yet, but he was being held out of the game as a precaution.
"Since they'd already exchanged lineups, I was done for the day, so I watched a couple innings, walked up to the clubhouse, did some lifting, kind of got the word then that the trade had been made." Green had been dealt to the Angels for Alberto Callaspo. "And it was kind of surreal at first, not really knowing what the next process was. It was the first time."
But for Green, the on-field process, once he moved to his new organization, was precisely the same as the old one. Green is 25, and since the Athletics drafted him 13th overall back in 2009, he's hit everywhere he's played. His career minor league OPS is .822, and that's held steady through Triple A, where he's at .829.
The question with Green has long been where he fits on a baseball field with his glove. He was drafted as a shortstop out of USC, but the limited arm strength you hear scouts describe is apparent. His throws from short often look more pushed than launched, though the years he's spent at the position make him look more natural there. At second base, the throws aren't a problem, but his movements are more mechanical, as if he's still learning the steps to a dance. At third base, he looks more natural, but his throws are a bigger problem, pulling the first baseman off the bag during infield practice.
"Second base is the most comfortable position for him right now," Angels' first base coach Alfredo Griffin, who also functions as an infield coach, told me when we discussed Green on the field Tuesday afternoon. "That's the type of player he is. Because his arm doesn't play as strong at third. So I have to work with him where he fits better."
Green, too, believes his future is at second base.
"Do I think I could play other positions? Yes. Do I think this is best for me, and where I'm most comfortable right now? Yes," Green said of second.
It hasn't been a particularly easy fit so far, though. In his first 89 major league innings at second base this season, he's put up a UZR of -3.3 runs. That may not sound like much to worry about, but that leaves his UZR/150 games at an unsightly -51.7.
For Angels manager Mike Scioscia, though, Green is a perfectly acceptable regular second baseman, in part because he has to accept it right now, with Howie Kendrick on the disabled list with a knee injury.
"He is right now," Scioscia said during his afternoon press conference with reporters in the Angels' dugout Tuesday, when asked if Green had mastered second base sufficiently well to be an every day player there. "He's comfortable in the batters' box, he's getting more comfortable in the field, and we'll keep working with him."
Scioscia described Green as "a pet project of Alfredo Griffin's," which, as Griffin explained later, meant that Green needs work. But the imperatives of the Angels as a team seem to be colliding with what is best for Green.
Kendrick, a productive player signed through 2015, looks to be about a week away from returning. And right now, the Angels are playing Chris Nelson, let go by both the Rockies and Yankees already this year, at third base. So getting Green more time at third could be a way for the Angels, hopelessly out of the race, to get Green into the lineup. It isn't going to get a raw defensive second baseman any better at what everyone seems to believe is his best possible position, though.
I asked Griffin whether having a player prepare at more than one spot limits his development in the field.
"It's very confusing, it's very hard because your mind is not set," Griffin said of the positional multitasking. "It's very hard because you might be today at second base, you might be at third tomorrow, then you might play shortstop, and you're spinning."
Scioscia disputed this, saying "I think he's played enough second base, he's far enough along, that it's not as much of an issue ... he's definitely better suited for second base right now, but third base is always a possibility."
Griffin did argue that Green would be more useful, to the Angels or another team, if he could succeed at second, short and third.
"For him, he's more valuable if he can play at more positions," Griffin said. "You're a very wanted player in the big leagues, because not too many players can play three positions and have the bat he has."
There's a downside to that, though. If Green can master one position defensively, he'll be seen as far more valuable than a guy who is adequate at best at three different spots. Still, both Griffin and Green believe he's made significant progress, and that achieving mastery at second is possible.
"The repetitions I've been getting ... I feel like it's coming, leaps and bounds, from where it was when I first started," Green said. "I feel real comfortable there, I feel like all the plays are becoming easier and easier."
Griffin believes the key for Green is to perform the basic tasks of a second baseman before worrying about anything flashy.
"It's his footwork," Griffin said. "If he gets his footwork together, that will help him. His arm will get stronger, because he will have better positioned himself to throw the ball. And turning the double play is the most important thing for him. I don't want him to get hurt.
"The main focus for me, for him, is to just be steady."
In the meantime, Green isn't worried about whether he'll hit in the big leagues.
"I feel comfortable, feel like I belong," Green said of his hitting. "It's just a matter of time, getting the reps."
Scioscia also spoke highly of his offensive potential, though he again described it in terms of third base.
"Now, where his bat plays -- he's hit in the minor leagues, he's shown some power in the minor leagues," Scioscia said. "Making that bridge to the major leagues, bringing potential to the major leagues, that's where the proving ground is. Although he has enough potential bat to play third base, we have to see how he performs in the batter's box."
In the meantime, whether Green plays second base, or third base when Kendrick returns, will have a lot to do with how far he can advance as a second baseman. Griffin advocated winter ball for Green, but Green says he hasn't had any discussions with the Angels about that. Still, Griffin said he thinks Green can make dramatic improvements in what remains of this season.
"He can finish the season playing as a good second baseman," Griffin said. "It's gonna take him getting repetitions and playing the game at the big league level."
Green agreed, saying that whatever work he puts in with drills or simulation, nothing can compare to game action.
"It'll just be the type of thing where, the more I play it, the more comfortable I'll feel," Green said.
Now it's up to the Angels to figure out just how much to prioritize Green's future at second base.