Utilizing Dual Position Athletes Properly

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Brian O’Connor is one of the elite coaches in baseball at the University of Virginia.

Entering his 15th year at the helm, he led the Cavaliers to their first national title in 2015 along with four overall appearances at the College World Series and 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

He enters 2018 with a career record of 639-239-2.

Over the years, his ball clubs have featured baseball players who are tremendous athletes that not only pitch but play a position on the field and hit.

Five of the best include:

  • LHP/1B Joe Koshansky (sixth round draft pick in 2004 by Colorado).
  • LHP/1B Sean Doolittle (first round draft pick in 2007 by Oakland).
  • LHP/DH/1B Danny Hultzen (first round pick in 2011 by Seattle).
  • RHP/DH/3B Nick Howard (first round pick in 2014 by Reds).
  • OF/LHP Adam Haseley (first round pick in 2017 by Phillies).

If you look at the landscape of college baseball today, it is rare to see dual position athletes like this.

Most who are able to pitch and also play another position and hit are asked to specialize in only one position when they get to college. They rarely are allowed to pitch, hit and play a position on the field defensively.

Decades ago, the best college programs in the USA featured dual position players like this, and programs thrived with these special athletes.

In this question and answer session, O’Connor explains why athletes should be given a chance to showcase their skills if they are able to play multiple positions on the collegiate level.

COLLEGIATE BASEBALL: Virginia has had some marvelous dual position athletes since you took over the program who can pitch, hit and play a position on the field. This was common years ago in college baseball. But now you rarely see coaches allow players to do this. They prefer to have players only pitch or play a position on the field. Why?

O’CONNOR: Some of it has been circumstance. When we first got to Virginia 15 years ago, we had a player by the name of Joe Koshansky who was the starting first baseman and a lefthanded pitcher for Virginia the previous season. He became the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of The Year, was in our starting rotation and hit in the middle of the lineup. He wound up being a Major Leaguer. We have been fortunate to have a successful line of these guys. The interesting thing about each one of them, for the most part, is that sometimes the industry of baseball doesn’t know yet what some of these guys might be the best at. Let’s look at Sean Doolittle who is the closer for the Washington Nationals. When we recruited him out of high school, nobody knew whether he would be a pitcher or hitter. Most schools were recruiting him as a pitcher. We recruited him as a dual player. After three years with Virginia, he was a first round draft choice as a hitter. As it turned out, because of knee surgeries and issues, he now is in the Big Leagues as a pitcher. The way recruiting is where recruits commit earlier and earlier, there are a lot of kids who pitch for their high school teams and also are position players who hit. Frankly, I’m not smart enough to know what they should specialize in yet. If it is in the best interests of them and the team, having them continue to be a dual player, if they can manage it, is a good thing.

CB: While college baseball always has a few of these tremendous athletes every year, there is no doubt that the numbers have shrunk over the last 40 years in college baseball as the game has become comprised of specialists who do one thing.

O’CONNOR: I can tell you that we don’t actively try to recruit players who are great pitchers who also are skilled hitters and defensive players. However, we have been fortunate to have some great ones in our program over the years. It’s worked out. But to be honest, it’s becoming harder and harder to do because so many kids are becoming specialized even on the high school level. There are so many 15 and 16-year-old pitchers who might only want to pitch. And that’s all they do. That’s fine. Even someone like Pavin Smith who was a first round pick out of our program last year by the Diamondbacks, out of high school there were as many people who liked him as a pitcher as much as a position player. When he came to Virginia, he ended up being a position player and ended up being a first round pick in that role. There really have been five elite guys in our program over the years who excelled at this in LHP/1B Joe Koshansky, LHP/1B Sean Doolittle, LHP/DH/1B Danny Hultzen, RHP/DH/3B Nick Howard and most recently OF/LHP Adam Haseley.

CB: I am curious if dual position athletes like this are at their best when they are allowed to pitch, hit and play a defensive position. If they are told to only pitch or only play a position and hit, have you seen dual position athletes like this perform worse?

O’CONNOR: I would think baseball people would love performing all of these skills on a regular basis. If you think about it, the competitiveness that it takes to do both is what makes special athletes like this excel. They know what it takes to step in that batter’s box at this level or take the mound against tremendous hitters and field as well. Competitors know what it is like on both sides. He knows what it’s like to face a great pitcher with two strikes on him with the winning run on second late in a game or being on the mound having to throw a strike or make a big pitch. I think it can be a real advantage for a player.

To read more of this question and answer session, purchase the Feb. 9, 2018 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. The rest of the article delves more deeply into the area of multiple position athletes on baseball teams.