When most anyone in baseball tries to learn a new position on the fly, one of the unwritten rules of the game is that he has a good chance of struggling at the plate. For whatever reasons, mental or physical, it just happens.
Just not with Chun Chen.
Chen, a 23-year-old prospect out of Taiwan, traded in his catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove for the first time this spring training. Three months into the first-base experiment, he’s swinging the bat better for the Double-A Aeros than he has at any level in the Indians’ system.
Chen hit .262 with 16 home runs and 70 RBI for the Aeros last year. About halfway through his season, he’s hitting .326 with 30 RBI and has already matched last year’s doubles total with 24.
Manager Chris Tremie said a player struggling at the plate while playing a new position is a concern “at certain times with certain guys, for sure.” Chen just hasn’t fallen victim to the trend like so many before him. Though he does have the added bonus of being able to rest his legs with fewer innings crouched behind home plate.
“I think going from catcher to first base, if anything, has allowed him to not have so much wear and tear on his body,” Tremie said. “So he’s probably able to feel fresher than he did at times last year. That may attribute to it and it may not, but the transition has been very easy.”
Chen’s also done a nice job of hitting the ball to all fields.
“He’s real balanced right now, staying inside the ball,” Tremie said. “He’s had a good path to the ball and you’re seeing the results. He’s driving the ball the other way and turning on inside pitches.”
Chen noticed how many pitchers began to attack the inside part of the plate and adjusted accordingly.
“They’re pitching me more inside this year, so I take a lot of batting practice on inside pitches,” Chen said. “I try to do that, think about that every at-bat and I try to hit a double.”
Playing the field
It’s working. He’s hitting .356 in June, and he’s hitting when it counts with a .387 batting average with runners in scoring position.
He began the year hitting as well as he ever has, and he’s improved that average each month (.304 in April and then .317 in May).
His bat has stayed consistent. The transition in the field hasn’t been as smooth, but it’s coming along, too.
“In the first month, sometimes the ball was hit and I had to think about where I was going,” Chen said. “So right now I’m learning where I’m going and working every day on ground balls. Now, I feel more comfortable.”
Chen had the physical traits to play a decent first base from Day One.
“He’s got good feet, good hands and he’s done a nice job of adapting to playing first base,” Tremie said. “It’s just getting used to new positioning with right-handers versus left-handers, coming in, playing back, footwork around the bag. He’s worked hard and he’s doing a good job.”
And he just keeps hitting — no matter what glove he carries with him onto the field.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at https://ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.