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John Jaso Discusses Playing Third Base and the Outfield in 2017

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PITTSBURGH – The first base position in Pittsburgh is going to be crowded in 2017. Top prospect Josh Bell arrived in 2016, and is expected to get most of the workload at the position. The Pirates signed David Freese to an extension at the end of the 2016 season, and he should continue to get some time at first base, when he’s not backing up third for Jung Ho Kang.

That doesn’t leave much time for John Jaso, who was signed to a two-year, $8 M deal last year. To help solve this problem, Jaso will be working at third base and the outfield, giving him some positional flexibility and giving the Pirates more opportunities to use him. The plan started when the Pirates approached him about the move at the end of the 2016 season.

“They brought up the work about outfield and third base,” Jaso said. “They haven’t given me any clues on what’s going to happen as the roster pans out. I’m just not going to worry myself with that. I just want to work and keep playing ball, and pretty much just not take any day for granted.”

Jaso worked in the outfield a lot when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, but didn’t get into games that often at the position. He’s more comfortable at that spot, but is more familiar with the position than third base. Jaso went through the process of learning a new position last year when he made the transition to first base. He’ll go through the same thing again this year with third base, and will go through the same process.

Last year, Jaso started his pre-season workouts early, making the short drive from his home in St. Pete Beach to Pirate City at least three times a week in January and February. He plans to do the same thing once January rolls around, allowing a few more weeks for his “decompression time” and leaving time for grouper season, which he jokingly noted ends December 31st. Third base is going to be more of a challenge than first base, but Jaso is hoping to take some of the skills he had behind the plate as a former catcher and apply them to the new spot.

“I think third base, you just have to not be scared to get dirty and keep your face in there when balls are hit hard at you,” Jaso said. “Catching is a completely different piece than any other position. Catchers are crazy underpaid compared to what other players have to go through. I really can’t compare those positions. I think really all you need to do is be able to get the ball in the glove and chuck it across the diamond. I just made that sound super easy, but compared to catching, it’s just a different animal.”

Jaso is looking forward to getting a chance to throw the ball at the new positions, which is something he said he missed while playing first base.

“I like to throw the baseball. One thing I had catching was a strong arm,” Jaso said. “Maybe not a quick release, because I wasn’t in the top tier at all with throwing runners out. But I feel like I did have a strong arm. I love throwing the ball. First base, you don’t get to do too much of that. Outfield and third base, you do.”

Jaso didn’t have the best season last year, hitting for a .268/.353/.413 line in 432 plate appearances. Those results aren’t bad at all from a bench player, but they’re not what you want from a starter. Most of those numbers, however, were fueled by a strong final two months. He finished the season with a .307/.413/.568 line in 104 plate appearances. That finish is similar to what Sean Rodriguez did in 2015, before his breakout in 2016.

The Pirates can only hope that the late finish for Jaso was a sign of what is to come in 2017. The only way they’ll know for sure is to get him in the lineup, and that’s where the new positions come into play.

“I just know how our team is panning out,” Jaso said. “There might be a lot of guys surrounding first base right now. I just want to set myself up in a good position where guys can have rest, I can get in the lineup somehow, and just increase my chances for playing time. That’s what I want to do, I want to play.”

Jaso wasn’t a bad defender in his first year at first base. I’m not optimistic that he can do the same thing in the outfield, and I’m less optimistic that he could provide value at third base enough to pass Kang and Freese while both are healthy. But if his bat plays, then the Pirates will have options to get him in the lineup, without having to bench Josh Bell.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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