Figgins moving down the lineup
Angels former leadoff man expected to bat ninth in 2007
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Since breaking into the big leagues briefly in 2002 -- and finally for good in his fourth stint with the Angels in 2003 -- Chone Figgins has specialized in, well, everything.
He debuted as a pinch-runner and has endured as one of baseball's most dangerous thieves -- compiling 163 steals in less than four full seasons. He led the league with 62 swipes in 2005 and joined Juan Pierre as the only player with at least 50 stolen sacks in each of the last two seasons.
His first start was at second base, where he's made 70 lineup cards, but his versatility has led him to see more time at both center field (213 starts) and third (160), with additional starts in left field (24), at short (17) and in right (12).
He's been all over the lineup, though he made 132 starts as the Angels' leadoff man in '06.
And now as he starts his fourth full season and prepares to turn 30, Figgins is being asked to try something new -- one thing at a time. He's slated to be the everyday third baseman and to bat at the bottom of the Angels order.
Let's take the last one first. Moving from leadoff to ninth could easily strike a prouder man as a demotion at worst, but an adjustment at best.
"My game doesn't change no matter where I hit," Figgins said before a game with the Brewers in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday. "My game is a type of leadoff. I'm a guy to get on base and make things happen. No matter what part of the order I'm hitting in, I'm getting on base and making things happen." He did exactly that Friday, sparking the offense from the nine-spot, putting together a sixth-inning single, a steal and a run scored with a ninth-inning triple that plated the tying run, until the runner ahead of him was called out on appeal for missing third base.
OK, point taken. Figgins can rattle the outfield alleys as easily as the pitcher's temperament wherever he hits and runs.
But isn't the concept of an "everyday" role at only one position as close to oxymoron as a man like Figgins can get?
"My role is to go out and play hard every day and help the team win," Figgins said. "It's nothing different than any other year I've played baseball."
Get outside of Figgins' uniform and most folks in the game believe his talents can only grow when his focus is narrowed.
"He's feeling very comfortable on the defensive side at third base," said manager Mike Scioscia. "That's been very evident this spring. Chone is very athletic, and when he settles in one position for long enough, he's going to be good at it. I think that's what we'll see at third base."
But from Figgins' perspective, he remains as acutely focused as he has always been.
"It's not so much focusing on one position," he explained. "You focus to prepare yourself to play every day. You focus yourself to be ready to move runners over, play good defense that day. That's the focus I think most of us have, is just to go out and be focused."
It's worth checking back with him later in the process, but midway through Spring Training, Figgins, the rare man who is both jack and master of all trades, sees no reason to redefine himself by more narrow criteria.
"I've never been a third baseman, so for me to start thinking, 'OK, I'm a third baseman,' is not what's got me to this point," Figgins said. "It's thinking about making your plays. Catch your routine ground balls and make your plays. Try to get on base and score runs. Try to keep it simple."
And for Figgins, the simplest way to master a craft is not by studying at the feet of a master craftsman. He's had his tutors, from Angels coach and former Gold Glove shortstop Alfredo Griffin to Keith Johnson, a coach with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. But for Figgins, the only real work is hands-on in game situations.
"It's repetitions in games," Figgins emphasized. "You really have to get ground balls in games. It makes you a lot better by getting ground balls. It's like hitting. The more you get to hit in games, the better you're going to get."
And nothing against the endless ground balls taken before each game, but they are no more representative of real game grounders as batting practice pitches are akin to the high heat or filthy curve of a game situation.
"You have somebody just flipping it up to themselves and hitting a three-hopper or two-hopper to you on the soft instead of a ball coming off somebody throwing 90 mph and it's coming off the bat 110 mph with top spin," he explained, pointing out there's no equivalence between the two. "You're better off just getting a pitching machine out there and just shooting it off to you."
Coming off a season spent primarily in center field, there is clearly a level of adjustment in moving to the hot corner, but Figgins pairs it down to a level of concentration.
"You try to concentrate and try to be aggressive," Figgins said. "Errors happen, but you get upset when it's not an aggressive error, if you lay back or something. Take your chances. You become better."
Better, he understands. But after all the variety and versatility has he found a comfort zone? Does he have a place where he feels most at home on the field?
"Just as long as I'm playing," he summed up succinctly. "As long as I'm in the starting nine somewhere and on the field, that's it."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.