Although Grant Green's progression through the Oakland A's minor league system has been a steady one-level-a-year climb, his development has been anything but conventional. The A's 2009 first-round pick was supposed to be Oakland's shortstop of the future when he was selected 13th overall out of USC. Green played almost exclusively at short for his first one-and-half minor league seasons. However, since midway through the 2011 campaign, Green has been something of a traveling man defensively.
In 2011, Green participated in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Upon returning to Double-A Midland after playing well in that prospect showcase, Green was moved from shortstop to centerfield. At the time, the A's were thin in the upper levels in outfielders and were looking at losing all four of their starting major league outfielders/DHs to free agency. It appeared that the outfield would be Green's quickest path to the big leagues. Green spent the rest of the 2011 season in centerfield and continued his work at the position that fall in the Arizona Fall League.
By the time Green reported to big league spring training in 2012 as a non-roster invitee, the landscape for the A's outfield had changed. Oakland had re-signed Coco Crisp and had acquired Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith and Yoenis Cespedes. Green continued to play in the outfield for the first half of the 2012 season with Triple-A Sacramento, splitting his time between center and left-field. However, right around the mid-season mark again, the A's asked Green to make another position shift back into the infield.
For much of the rest of the 2012 season, Green played a utility role for Sacramento, seeing time at second base, third base, the outfield and even occasionally at his old position at shortstop. Oakland sent Green to the Fall League for a third straight year after the 2012 regular season ended so that Green could continue his work at the position they now envision him staying at: second base.
Although Green admits that all of the position changes have sometimes taken a toll, he has a pragmatic outlook to his nomadic journey with the glove.
"[O]f course right now I want to be able to focus on one position and get that call-up and get that break through up with Oakland and play in the majors," Green said last week at the A's 2013 FanFest. "But looking down-the-road, I have talked with my agent and other people – Scars [2013 Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone] is really big, I have talked to him quite a bit – looking down-the-road it is something that can only add to value.
"If it gets to the point where I get lucky enough to play nine years or so and I'm trying to get that 10th year and teams can see, ‘hey this guy has played left, he's played center, he can play three infield positions, he can play first if he has to.' That can only add value and maybe that gives me two or three more years hanging on to play the game that I love."
The A's and Green are focused more on the present than the future right now, however. Green, who was added to the A's 40-man roster this past November, will be attending his fourth big league spring training camp, but it will be his first camp as a roster player. He is expected to battle Scott Sizemore, Jemile Weeks and others for the A's starting second base job.
"This is Grant's year to show us in spring training what he can do there. I haven't seen him play the [second base] position," A's manager Bob Melvin said at FanFest. "But based on what I have heard about his progress, how he played second base last year and certainly how he swung the bat, he will be a guy who gets quite a few at-bats at second base. He will get a hard look there."
Green is excited about the opportunity to show the A's big league coaching staff what he can do both at second base and at the plate.
"I think the biggest thing that is going to be different for me going into spring training this year is that I think I'm probably not going to be gone on the first cuts," Green said. "Usually going in as a non-roster invitee, when first cuts come, you kind of know, ‘okay, I'm going down.' But with everything they've said to me, with being able to possibly break with the club, I'm hoping that I'm there – if not breaking with the team – until the last day, competing for the job. If I don't get it, hopefully me playing hard gets Weeks or Sizemore or whoever gets it to up their game even more.
"[I'm] not going to try to put the added pressure on myself of maybe being able to break with the team because if I go and do what I need to do, that's all I can do. I can't control what the organization wants or where they want me. All I can do is what I have done in the past and go in prepared and feeling good about myself and feeling confident. Just whatever happens, happens. If I go pressing, it's only going to hurt what I need to do."
In 2012, Green spent the entire season with Triple-A Sacramento. In his first year at that level, Green posted a .296/.338/.458 slash-line with 15 homers and 75 RBI. Those numbers were nearly all improvements over his 2011 stats with Double-A Midland. With the Rockhounds, Green hit .291/.343/.408 with nine homers and 62 RBI.
After the 2011 season concluded, Green spent his time in the Fall League and during his off-season work making adjustments to his set-up at the plate. The adjustments were designed to help Green hit for more power and make more consistent hard contact. Green was pleased with how his first season with the adjustments went.
"The power numbers went up, the slugging percentage went up and the strike-outs went down. What we did let me see the ball a little bit better," Green said. "Going forward, it's just going to be a matter of trying to perfect that swing. Talking with Trick [A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson] and Sparky [River Cats' hitting coach Greg Sparks] and even with Chili [Davis, A's hitting coach] the little bit I had with him during camp last year, they really seem to like it. They seem to really want me to go forward with that.
"Hopefully this is the last time I have to change the stance for quite awhile. Hopefully I can start getting comfortable with it and start perfecting it and good things will continue to come from it."
Green doesn't focus too much on his numbers, but he has been working on developing a consistent approach at the plate.
"I learned last year talking to the guys who are older that numbers don't matter. Yes, they do in the whole scheme of things, but you can only control your approach up until you hit the ball. After that, you can't control what happens, whether the ball goes to someone or not," Green said.
"I have talked with Trick this off-season. The main thing we are working on is more quality at-bats and hopefully try to bring my walk total up a little bit and my strike-out total down. Just continue to hit the ball hard. If we can do that, that's the main focus. If I hit the ball hard every single at-bat and I hit .100, I can't control that. It's the type of thing that we truly believe that if you can have a quality AB, a consistent AB every single at-bat, good things are going to happen."
Defensively, Green is still learning the ins-and-outs of his new position.
"It's weird, to say it nicely. Not being able to see the runner is kind of odd for me," Green said. "I got blown up my first double-play turn in Sacramento last year, and ever since then, I have been lucky. I haven't been touched at all. That's kind of lucky for me in the fact that I feel like it is coming along."
Although Green said that he planned to take some fly balls in the outfield during the final week before reporting to camp on February 8, he is spending the vast majority of his time working on his defense at second.
"Right now, I'm just specifically working at second – working on turns, working on the feed to second, turning two, giving the ball to shortstop," Green said. "Just trying to get the ins-and-outs of second as it compares to short. It's only on the other side of the diamond but it's still pretty different."
Green is at the point in his career with three full minor league seasons under his belt that he is transitioning from wide-eyed youngster to wily minor league veteran. The Southern California native learned a lot about leadership from his veteran teammates on the River Cats last season and he took on that leadership role last fall with the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
Having played in the AFL for three straight years, Green admitted that the league didn't hold the same allure that it had in past years. He took his time in the Fall League as an opportunity not only to improve his defense at second, but also to help younger players. Green worked closely with Phoenix manager Aaron Holbert, who himself made the transition from shortstop to second base as a player, and gave advice to younger players just starting their climb towards the big leagues.
"I went there just pretty much to learn second base. My first two years, I was kind of like a giddy kid in a candy store, but going back for my third year, it kind of lost its luster, I'm not going to lie," Green said. "I still knew that I went there for a reason and I also took it upon myself to help some of the guys from different organizations that were younger. Tried to teach them what I can. Guys did that for me when I was there. Last year in Sacramento with [Wes] Timmons and some of the older guys who were there, they kind of brought me under their wing. I saw that as an opportunity to try to do the same thing."
Green also learned from his time in Sacramento last season to be ready for a big league opportunity at all times. Several of his River Cats' teammates earned promotions during the season and wound up playing significant roles for the A's at the big league level. Based on what he saw last season, Green knows that even if he doesn't make the A's roster coming out of camp, he could still be a factor for Oakland during the season.
"Looking at how many transactions we had last year in Sacramento, it's definitely something that you have in the back of your mind that ‘hey, if I have one or two good weeks, if something happens up there, you are the next guy,'" Green said.
"Seeing all of that and seeing guys like with Brandon Moss. They invited him to camp and he was sent to Triple-A not on the roster and him and Jim Miller both of them up with Oakland for much of the year. Moss helping that team complete one of the greatest comebacks in American League West history to win that division. Seeing that and seeing Sean Doolittle come out of nowhere and rise through the minors and being up there as one of the top dudes out of the ‘pen for them, it's definitely something that you look at and think, ‘that could be me next year.'
"It's definitely something that we saw in Sacramento that if you are getting called up, you are getting called up to play. It's not come up here and sit for three weeks and then go back down."
The past two years have proven that Green is a player very capable of making adjustments. The 2013 season may be another year of adjustments for the 25-year-old – only this time to the big leagues.