Savery getting taste of hitting again
Former two-way college star may move from mound to first
Back in 2007, Joe Savery was coming out of Rice University as one of the top two-way players in the college ranks. Most teams scouting the left-handed pitcher/first baseman liked him on the mound more, and that's exactly how the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him with the 19th overall pick in that June's Draft.
Three years later, Savery has made it up to the Triple-A level as a pitcher, but it hasn't really gone how anyone -- Savery included -- had hoped. The 24-year-old now has a career 4.29 ERA after going 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA in his first full season at the highest Minor League level.
"It's hard when you put in the work, my control got better, but stuff wise, I'm a little limited there," an up-front Savery said. "I have to be honest there. I'm in the high 80s, touching 90 here and there. That's where I can pitch and have an idea of where it's going.
"I haven't been able to get a feel for my changeup again since I was cut on [he had labrum surgery prior to his final year at Rice]. I was throwing a cutter the second half and a sinker that was helping me. But part of the concern is if my stuff will compete at that next level, and that's what you have to look at."
That answer hasn't been given definitively just yet, but the Phillies and Savery appear to be going down the road of it being a "no."
Starting with the end of the 2010 season and now during instructional league play in Florida, Savery is exploring going back and starting over, this time as a hitter.
While most liked him as a pitcher back in college, it's not like his hitting skills went completely ignored. He hit .356/.435/.505 in his junior season at Rice, and while he didn't wow scouts with his bat speed or power, there were some things to like there, a lefty hitter who may have profiled as a Mark Grace-type hitter if everything came together.
When Savery was demoted to the bullpen this season, he and the Phillies began talking about letting him swing the bat from time to time. He got some opportunities to DH over the year and showed some positive signs, hitting .348 with three doubles and a homer in 46 at-bats with Lehigh Valley. At instructs, he's getting the chance to hit and play first base every day for the first time since he left Rice. It's proven to be a bittersweet experiment for Savery.
"It's hard to give up on [pitching] and feel you didn't do what you were signed to do," Savery said. "It's hard to not be able to do the things you used to do. But that's part of the game and life. This has been an emotionally tough thing. But I am excited the Phillies are giving me a chance to look at this to see if there's something I can give to this game."
The Phillies and Savery haven't officially closed the door on his pitching career, but it certainly seems like that's the direction Savery's career path is headed. And while it's believed to be a tough transition to make -- going from position player to pitcher is thought to be an easier conversion -- there are some examples of success from others doing something similar.
The biggest one, of course, is Rick Ankiel, but the one that might be the best comparison for Savery is the Astros' Brian Bogusevic. The former two-way standout at Tulane was a 2005 first-round pick, as a left-handed pitcher. He pitched for the Astros until 2008, when he began making the switch to the outfield. After just two full seasons of playing every day, Bogusevic received his first big league callup on Sept. 1 and has gone 5-for-18.
"I can see and agree it's harder, but you look at a guy like Bogusevic, who I did talk to briefly about this, he enjoys playing every day," Savery said. "I don't think you can underestimate, the guys who have done this, they had to want to do what they're doing. I believe if it's something you want to do, the transition will be much easier."
The more Savery has played in Clearwater during instructs, the more he's felt the rust shake off and some of the athleticism of being a position player return. He feels that pitching has enabled him to have a better understanding of his body and what he wants it to do. Getting it to do what he wants all the time, especially in situations like facing left-handed pitching, is something that will come in time and with repetition. And he's remembering quickly that if things don't go well one day, there's always tomorrow for a position player.
"That's the great thing about hitting and fielding, you get the next chance the next day," Savery said. "And you get way more reps. I am a little tired, but I have to get back in the swing of things, and I'm not used to doing that."
He's getting more accustomed to thinking of himself as a hitter as well. The lines of communication have been open since the idea of giving this a try was first broached earlier this season, and Savery knows the conversation will come soon about whether this will be a permanent switch or if it was just an experiment. Savery seems prepared for whatever comes next, whether it's starting a new chapter or going back to continue working on the old one.
"I was a high pick as a pitcher and wanted to be successful," Savery said. "But I'm treating my time here as if I'm making the switch to hitting. I'm treating this as if I'm becoming a hitter. I've been working at first base every morning. I'll be in the lineup a good bit and that's how the instructors are treating me.
"Guys don't ever do both, and I know that, but I'm not going to close my mind to either one right now."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.