is Clement really going to be the starting 1B for Pittsburgh? if hes going to play on a regular basis hes going to be a big plus, but if hes only going to start a couple games a week he might be a waste on the bench even with C and one would be better to go with another regular catcher on the bench.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pittsburgh first base coach Carlos Garcia came to Pirates camp this spring as a man on a mission.
What he didn't know was that his mission was going to be as driven and focused as Garcia himself.
His mission is Jeff Clement, a left-handed hitter with power who was being asked to change positions. Clement, the one-time Seattle catcher, and Garcia have gotten together almost every morning before regular team workouts start, working on defense on one of the back fields.
Sometimes they talk defense, sometimes handling the pickoff throw or positioning. Mostly, however, Garcia hits lots and lots of ground balls and Clement does his best to handle them.
"He's working hard, man,'' Garcia said. "He's my project for the spring, and he really wants this.''
The fact is that the Pirates don't have other options they're in love with if Clement isn't the man. But if forced, Pittsburgh could come up with somebody else. Clement's goal is to grab the position and make it his own and forestall that kind of decision for the club.
"Ever since they told me they wanted me to focus on first base, I haven't thought about catching,'' Clement said Sunday morning. "I used to watch what other catchers did. Now I watch first basemen. I think about how to get the job done over there. I haven't given up on catching forever, but for now it's all about first base.
"I want to prove to them how good a first baseman I can be.''
Garcia said that the change from 2009, when Clement was shipped midseason from Seattle's Triple-A Tacoma roster to the Pirates' club in Indianapolis, has been dramatic. The Mariners had toyed with the idea of Clement at first base, but only six of his 92 games were there in Tacoma last year as he caught 16 games and was the DH 70 times. He never caught once he changed organizations.
Garcia, at that point the organization's minor-league infield coordinator, started then to work with Clement at first base.
As it is, balls in the dirt and errant throws in general continue to be a problem, although not so much as before all this extra work.
"As a catcher, you are used to seeing the ball come to you, then have it hit away from you,'' Clement said. "At first base you have the ball hit to you, and you need to get used to the way different pitches will come off the bat toward you.
"Reading the ball off the bat was the toughest thing for me at first, but it's getting better. And reading hops can be tricky, too. But I absolutely expect things to continue to get better.''
Reading his teammates, too, is a significant factor, which is why manager John Russell wants to put Clement on the field much of the time with second baseman Aki Iwamura and shortstop Ronny Cedeno, both of whom, like Clement, are relatively new to the organization.
"Jeff's got to get more comfortable at first base,'' Russell said. ``It's going OK so far this spring. The guys need to learn how to play with each other.''
Clement's upside is high if the Pirates can make him a decent first baseman, because he's a left-handed pull hitter with power. That never really showed itself in a few up-and-down stints with the Mariners, but between Tacoma and Indianapolis last year the former Southern California star had 35 doubles, 21 homers and 90 RBI.