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Cutters' Walding adjusting to new position

June 18, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

Mitch Walding charged the slow, bouncing baseball that had just come off the fungo bat of manager Andy Tracy. Walding, the Williamsport Crosscutters’ newest third baseman, gloved the ball and transferred it so quickly to his throwing hand it was almost like a slight-of-hand magic trick. The off-balance throw would have hit Chris Serritella in the chest at first base had his glove not caught the ball.

Yes, it was just a round of infield practice, but it all looked so fluid and so natural. It was tough to tell Walding has only been a third baseman for less than a year. But with Walding having a natural third baseman’s frame at 6-foot-3, and with the Phillies having taken a number of other shortstops during the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the 19-year old knew his future very well could lead to a position change.

Here he is, a year later, ready to make his professional debut as a third baseman and he looks like he’s been playing the position his whole life.

“At first it was difficult because the angles are different. Reading the balls off the bat is a big difference,” Walding said during Crosscutters media day on Saturday. “Through all the extended spring training I’m used to it and I’m starting to feel comfortable with it. Everything has been going pretty smooth. I like it, actually.”

“If you can play short, you can pretty much play wherever you want in the field,” Cutters manager Andy Tracy said. “That’s usually the best athlete on the field, and obviously he’s a great athlete. He’s going to be able to make the transition.”

The switch is a complete change from what Walding was used to. Before, as a shortstop, range was defined by how deep in the hole he could get to field a grounder, or how quickly he could get to balls up the middle. In his new position, range is basically defined by how far he can lunge either way.

His new position is all about reaction time, something he feels like he’s adjusted well to. The arm strength isn’t a concern. He showed a strong, accurate arm during the Cutters first workout at Bowman Field.

“Your first step means everything. Your first step is the steering wheel to everything,” Walding said. “It’s more quick instinct and seeing the ball as fast as you can.”

The new position also comes with new expectations, and Walding is well aware of it. Third base is considered a premium power position, not unlike first base or a corner outfield spot.

But Walding is not your prototypical power hitter. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he has a long, lean frame that’s just ripe to fill out over the next couple years. In fact, he said he put on 15 pounds of muscle lifting weights in the offseason. He understands the position comes with an expectation of power, but he’s not expecting to completely change his way of hitting over night.

“It’s definitely a big part of what I wanted to work, and I’m still kind of a young guy so it’ll come sooner or later,” Walding said. “Hopefully as the years go on I’ll just keep getting bigger and bigger and the power numbers will go up.” “I think that’s something Mitch will have to fight throughout his career,” Tracy said.

EARLY ROSTER ADDITION: It only took two days, but Williamsport already made a roster addition on Monday. Brian Pointer was sent to Williamsport from Lakewood where he had been playing since April. The Crosscutters had just three outfielders on its preliminary roster Saturday, but first baseman Brock Stassi had also been working out in left field.

Pointer was a 28th-round selection out of high school in Reno, Nev., in 2010. Prior to this season in 52 games in the Gulf Coast League, Pointer, an outfield, hit .273 with six home runs and 25 RBIs.

The 6-foot, 190-pound left-handed hitter hit .222 with Lakewood this season, but had struggled the last month and a half. He hit .295 in April with five home runs and 19 RBIs. But since then Pointer hit just .167 with two home runs and eight RBIs. He was hitting third in the lineup for Monday night’s season-opener for Williamsport.

SOMETHING IN MIND: Cutters manager Andy Tracy said he already had an idea of how he wanted to shape his first lineup before Monday night’s season-opener against State College. The nine starters in the lineup featured seven players who were with Tracy in Clearwater during extended spring training.

The other two were Chris Serritella, a fourth-round draft pick out of Southern Illinois University in this month’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, and outfielder Brian Pointer who had spent the first 2 ½ months of the season in Lakewood. Most notably in the lineup was 2011 supplemental first-round pick Larry Greene hitting fifth, and 2011 second-round pick Roman Quinn hitting leadoff.

“I went with who (the Phillies) gave me,” Tracy said. “It’s pretty much self-explanatory who is going to play on our team. We’ll rotate people around and get them at-bats as I can.”

TUESDAY STARTER: Ulises Joaquin is scheduled to be the Crosscutters' starting pitcher for Tuesday's game at State College.

 
 

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