This debate is one that goes back a bit, as the Phillies have had their share of two way players, and invariably, they always seem to pick the wrong route for that guy. This question is again at the forefront with Jiwan James. James was a gifted two way player in High School, and turned down a commitment to Florida, where he was set to play Wide Receiver, in order to sign with the Phillies. Most were unsure which way he would go, and the Phillies have decided to put him on the mound. There’s no way of knowing if this is permanent, but it likely is. Not surprisingly, I think this is the wrong way to go.
From reading various scouting publications over the years, it seems that guys have an easier time “re-learning” how to pitch, but not re-learning how to hit. Think about it. How many pitchers in the big leagues were awesome hitters in college, but once they got to pro ball, they put the bats away, and when they make it to the majors, they are .180 hitters. You have a few exceptions, Marquis and Zambrano can handle the bat, Randy Wolf and Tim Hudson are still good hitters, by pitchers standards, but by in large, once you become a pitcher full time, your hitting goes away. The big thing is, hitting at the highest level requires tons of repetition, and even with incredible natural talent, you need the reps to become a solid big league hitter. The main requirement for pitchers is arm strength, and arm strength is normally something that doesn’t just go away. Pitchers of course need a repeatable delivery and clean mechanics, and those are things that also require a lot of repetition, but by what seems like a large majority of opinion, it’s much easier to re-learn how to pitch than to hit at the big league level.
So, James has been sent to the mound. His first appearance was excellent, 2 IP, 0 ER, 2 K….nothing wrong with that. But if James struggles on the mound, the adjustment back to the bat could be a tough one, and at that point, it might be too late. The Padres #1 pick a few years ago, Matt Bush, was a two way player, splitting time at SS and P in high school. The Padres put him at SS, and he failed miserably for 3 seasons. He’s back on the mound now, and throwing in the low 90′s again, already making strides and showing the plus arm everyone knew he had when drafted. It will be interesting to see if the Phillies made the right choice here.