Prospects and minor leaguers are willing to do just about anything to be able to reach the big leagues, and that certainly includes starting over from scratch and attempting an entirely new position. Teams suggest players in their systems switch positions with relative frequency in order to squeeze the most value out of their prospects, and in many cases this strategy has worked out quite well. As it relates specifically to position players who were converted to pitchers, there are many instances in which the switch led to a very successful and long professional career.
Trevor Hoffman, once the all-time saves leader, is a prime example. Hoffman was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 11th round after playing shortstop for the University of Arizona. His bat was not good enough for the bigs and he was ultimately moved to the pitching role in which he thrived. The converted shortstop now has a legitimate chance at election to the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible in 2016.
There are other examples of successful conversions, as Tim Wakefield (first baseman), Dave Stieb (outfield) and Troy Percival (catcher) all went on to have long and notable careers in Major League Baseball. There are a number of pitchers currently in the majors who began their professional careers as position players before switching to pitching full-time, and what follows are 10 of the best converted pitchers in baseball today.
10 Jason Lane – Outfield
9 Chris Hatcher – Catcher
8 Alexi Ogando – Outfielder
Ogando has dealt with injury-plagued seasons over the past few years, owing to shoulder trouble (2013) and elbow inflammation (2014), leading the Texas Rangers to non-tender him this offseason. Before the injuries limited his appearances, Ogando was an All-Star while starting 29 games for the Rangers in 2011. He pitched to a 3.5q ERA and went 13-8 while striking out 126 batters in his 169 innings of work that season.
7 Sergio Santos – Shortstop
6 Jason Motte - Catcher
5 Carlos Marmol – Catcher/Outfield
4 Rafael Soriano – Outfield
3 Joe Nathan – Shortstop
2 Sean Doolittle – First Base
1 Kenley Jansen - Catcher
Jansen’s conversion from catching to pitching came back in 2009 when the Dodgers had to move the big righty to the 40-man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft. The Dodgers moved him there conditionally, as the light-hitting catcher did not warrant such protection unless he agreed to a move to the mound. Jansen, though reluctant, agreed, and was demoted from Triple-A Albuquerque to Single-A Inland Empire to work with pitching coach Charlie Hough and become acquainted with the mound. The conversion worked, and now Jansen is the Dodgers' closer, having piled up 97 saves in three seasons in the closing role. On his career, he has averaged an obscene 14 strikeouts per nine innings and possesses a cut fastball that often draws comparisons to the cutter thrown by the great Mariano Rivera. Suffice it to say that the pitching conversion was a wise move for Jansen.
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