Ex-Gaucho shining in utility role

July 23, 2009

By MARK PATTON NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

July 23, 2009 10:20 AM

There is something about UCSB's Uyesaka Stadium that develops flexibility in a baseball player.

Maybe it comes from adjusting to all those bad hops off its clumpy grass, or to the droppings left by the legion of raccoons that roam the dugouts at night.

But the real poop on the Gauchos is this: You can move them anywhere.

Michael Young, who was recruited to UCSB as an outfielder, made the Texas Rangers as a second baseman, won a Gold Glove as their shortstop and has made an almost seamless transition to third base this season. He's committed only six errors in 89 games.

The St. Louis Cardinals brought Skip Schumaker in from the outfield this season and he's responded by making only six errors in 79 games at second base.

Their concentration hasn't wavered at the plate, either, with Young batting .310 and Schumaker not far behind at .304 entering Wednesday's games.

"When you're constantly moving around, sometimes that can affect your hitting," said Bobby Magallanes, manager of the Angels' Double-A club in Arkansas.

Magallanes played musical chairs this summer with the newest Gaucho transformer, Nate Sutton, and "it hasn't affected him at all."

Sutton didn't have a set spot this season with the Travelers, playing every position except right field, catcher and pitcher. But he did earn a spot in the recent Texas League All-Star game after batting .307.

"He's come in and accepted it and has run away with this role," Magallanes said. "And he was in the all-star game so he's been rewarded for having a good attitude."

An even bigger reward came with his recent promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake, where he's hit .268 so far in 16 games.

Sutton, who was taken by the Angels in the 24th round of the 2004 MLB Draft, was Arkansas' regular second baseman last year when he led it to the Texas League championship while scoring a team-high 58 runs.

He had to surrender second this spring to prospect Ryan Mount, and admittedly regarded his new utility role "as a demotion mentally" when it was presented to him.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the bench:

"It's been kind of fun playing other positions," Sutton said. "The nice part is that I've been able to get lots of at-bats. Unfortunately some guys have gone down and I've been able to get a lot of playing time in a utility role."

His former UCSB teammate, Chris Malec, is having the same experience at Trenton in the Eastern League, hitting .295 while playing four different positions for the New York Yankees' Double-A club.

"Versatility is a big positive for me in trying to move up the ladder," Malec said.

The last step to Anaheim will be the most difficult for Sutton, but manager Mike Scioscia's affection for multi-taskers gives him hope.

Magallanes explains Sutton's value this way:

"You can carry an extra pitcher because you've got a guy that can do multiple things."

You won't find any waste material, after all, in a Major League dugout.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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