Center Of Attention: Hall Getting Crash Course In Outfield

By Tom Haudricourt
Updated: February 26, 2007

PHOENIX— The decision to move Bill Hall from the infield to center field is perhaps the most debated topic as the Milwaukee Brewers conduct spring training, with many fans disagreeing with the move.

Tony Gwynn Jr. and Brady Clark weren’t too excited about that move, either, for rather obvious reasons. Clark was the previous occupant in center, and Gwynn hoped to be the future occupant.

For the present, those players are in different stages of limbo.

“Honestly, it was disappointing, a little bit,” said Gwynn, 24, who hurt his chances of taking the job last September when he struggled at the plate (.210 batting average) during what amounted to an audition for 2007.

“Anybody’s going to be disappointed. It’s just one of those things you have to forget about and go out and play. You can get eaten up worrying about stuff like that. I’m trying to keep a good attitude about it. Anything can happen. The end result is going to be determined by how well I play.”

Clark, who seized the center-field job in 2005 with a breakthrough performance (.306, 13 homers, 53 RBI in the leadoff spot), played his way out of the lineup last season. The 33-year-old veteran struggled to a .263 batting average with a .335 slugging percentage and .348 on-base percentage.

After seeing his playing time decrease considerably in the final weeks of last season, the stoic Clark said he wasn’t surprised by the news that Hall was moving to center.

“Nothing really surprises me,” he said. “I don’t say that in a bad way. I don’t really worry about stuff I can’t control.”

Clark, whose status on the roster probably is secured by his $3.8 million salary, is likely to be on the bench. Hall, who earned team MVP honors last season while playing mostly at shortstop in place of injured J.J. Hardy, is expected to see most of the action in center after his six-week apprenticeship in spring training.

Hall is receiving his tutorial from new first base/outfield coach Ed Sedar, a longtime instructor in the Brewers’ farm system. Well aware that Hall is an excellent athlete with a strong arm that you don’t often see in center, Sedar wants Hall to focus on making the routine and fundamental plays.

“We want him to be a strong-minded outfielder instead of a strong-armed one who constantly goes for the primary runner and allows the secondary runners to get into scoring position,” said Sedar. “You want to keep the double play in order.

“You always have to keep pounding that with an aggressive player and I’ve already started it. He has the athletic ability to (make big plays). But you don’t want to overshoot everybody. You have to curtail that because the primary runner is not always our main concern. If you keep the double play in order, it’s going to be better than just missing the lead runner.”

Hall, 27, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract before the start of camp, is the first to admit he likes showing up on highlight reels. And, with a penchant for walk-off homers and exciting defensive plays, he has been featured on his fair share.

But the Brewers aren’t trying to cultivate a “Web Gem” challenger for St. Louis’ Jim Edmonds. They’ll be more than happy with a sound, athletic centerfielder who covers the gaps and makes the occasional great play.

“We talked about the fact that, unlike the infield, there’s not going to be action all the time in center,” said Sedar. “It’s important what you learn to do during the dead time. You can’t let your mind wander.

“Sometimes, you’ll go two or three games without a ball being hit your way. But you have to be ready when one comes. I told him, ‘Don’t be taking pitches off. Sometimes it’s monotonous.’ “

Much to his credit, Hall isn’t being dragged to center, kicking and screaming. After bouncing around the infield during his first three years in the majors, he’s looking forward to moving to one position and staying there.

Though manager Ned Yost didn’t confirm his plan to move Hall to center until just before camp opened, Hall said he was expecting the switch for some time. When the Brewers failed in their pursuit of free-agent centerfielder Dave Roberts in November, Hall had a good idea where he’d be playing this spring.

“I knew it was a good chance then that I’d be playing center,” said Hall, who led the Brewers in several offensive categories last season, including home runs (35), runs batted in (85), slugging percentage (.553) and extra-base hits (78).

“I liked playing shortstop but center is going to be fun, too. It’s another exciting position, and I like being exciting.”

With third base unsettled while Corey Koskie recovers from post-concussion syndrome, Yost and general manager Doug Melvin are often asked why they aren’t moving Hall to that position. The Brewers have a glut of outfielders, so those questions seem to make sense, on the surface.

But Yost and Melvin have a two-pronged reason for moving Hall to center. They expect prospect Ryan Braun to be ready to take over at third in the near future and don’t want to ask Hall to change positions twice.

Just as important, Hall has an offensive skill set – including his burgeoning power – you don’t often see in center field. The Brewers are looking to gain advantages at as many positions as possible, and believe Hall provides one at his new position.

After being described in the past as a jack of all trades, Hall was asked how it felt to hear the word “centerfielder” in front of his name.

“I think it sounds pretty good,” he said. “I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun to be doing one thing. I hope I’m there for the rest of my career.”