The consensus around baseball about Marlon Byrd’s defense in center field is that he’s a nearly perfectly average center fielder. His range is acceptable and his arm is acceptable. He won’t win you any games out there, but he shouldn’t lose too many either.
But when Byrd showed up to Chicago Cubs camp looking like the 2010 version of Glenallen Hill – that is to say, the dude was stocky and ripped – it was hard to picture him covering tons of ground out there. Byrd’s says that’s bullocks, though, and he’s ready to show the Cubs what they’ve been missing defensively.
More important, he’s moving from the American League West, which is full of large outfields, to the National League Central, which generally has smaller outfields, including Wrigley.
”Which means I get to play shallow,” he said, ”which is my forte.”
Which means over-the-shoulder and over-the-head catches.
”I do both,” Byrd said. ”If I have a wrong read on balls coming [over a shoulder], I just let it land over my head [into the glove].”
It’s not that fans are going to see a version of Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio — although Byrd does wear Mays’ No. 24.
”Those guys are greats. They could go anywhere with ease, very fluid,” Byrd said. ”I know how to go back on a ball correctly, so it’s just a difference.”
It’s something Byrd started by watching Andruw Jones with the Atlanta Braves when Byrd was coming up with the Philadelphia Phillies.
”Wherever he played, I would try to play,” he said. ”And about every pitch, I’d get nervous and take a couple of steps back because he was so shallow. But over time, and being with [Rangers coach and former Gold Glove center fielder] Gary Pettis for a couple of years, I got better. I started trusting what I did in the outfield.”
The chance to play with Jones last season helped, too — even if the big acreage at Rangers Ballpark and a young pitching staff didn’t.
”I couldn’t play shallow until our pitchers got in a groove,” Byrd said. ”I couldn’t start creeping in until about the third inning.”
Now he’ll have a more veteran pitching staff with the Cubs and an outfield he can work with.
”One thing you’re going to see about Marlon is how good a center fielder he is,” Jaramillo said. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.
Nothing inspires confidence quite like a guy saying he affirmatively wants to try and make over-the-shoulder catches.
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