BRADENTON, Fla. – Back in January, during Pirates mini-camp, Clint Hurdle was standing behind the second base bag watching the middle infielders taking batting practice. Hurdle noticed one infielder who stood out for his size and yelled out to the player, loud enough to be heard all over the field.
“That’s the biggest second baseman I’ve seen since Bobby Grich!”
Hurdle asked the player if he knew who Bobby Grich was. The player wasn’t aware of the infielder who played 17 years in the big leagues. He received homework to look up the player later that day.
The infielder was Erich Weiss, and when I asked him about that conversation a month later, he instantly remembered Grich’s name. Weiss is only listed at 6′ 2″, 200 pounds, and you can probably find second basemen who are listed bigger. But those listings seem to be off. I’m just shy of 6′ 4″, and when I was talking with Weiss, he was as tall as me, or slightly taller. He might also be a little over 200 pounds, although he’s definitely in shape.
In fact, Weiss is in enough shape that the Pirates started getting him reps at shortstop during defensive drills at the start of Spring Training. They gave him time at shortstop during instructs in 2015, but that was just to keep him agile. This time around, he might be an option for shortstop, at least as an emergency option.
“Just [playing] everywhere really,” Weiss said. “Second, third, and short. Just to keep me on my feet, learn more about other positions, in case I have to go over there.”
Weiss played some shortstop in high school, but mostly played second base. He went to college, where he spent more time at third base. The Pirates drafted him as a third baseman in the 11th round of the 2013 draft, and gave him an over-slot bonus to sign him away from his final year with Texas. He played third base the first year, but moved to second base the following year, where he has shown good skills for a tall infielder. That doesn’t come easy for a guy of his size.
“It’s a lot of practice,” Weiss said. “Being taller, you have to stay lower to the ground. It’s a lot of leg work. Make sure your legs are strong, flexible, because you’ve got to get down there, and for that to happen you’ve got to have flexible and strong legs. It takes a little work to get used to it. I’ve dealt with it my whole life. Just field it and throw it.”
The Pirates are no strangers to giving players additional positional flexibility. It seems that every infielder they have can play multiple positions. The middle infielders usually try out shortstop or third base, depending on which one they haven’t played. The corner infielders might get some work in the outfield. This has become necessary due to how many infield prospects there are in the upper levels. In order to maximize playing time, and maximize the chances of a player getting an opportunity in the majors, the player needs to play multiple positions.
This approach really benefits a player like Weiss. Despite his size, he doesn’t hit for a lot of power. He gets on base at a good rate, has some power, and hits for average. This combination profiles more as a utility player in the future, which means the best way for Weiss to increase his value going forward would be to add more positions. He’s currently fighting for a spot in the Triple-A lineup, and will have plenty of competition, making that versatility all the more important.