By Brent Ingram, UTA Athletics Communications
Among the new philosophies adopted across the big leagues in recent years is a demand for positional versatility. This theory of creating multitalented defenders is an idea that UTA head coach Darin Thomas has completely adopted.
Attend a UTA baseball practice or scrimmage in the preseason or the fall and there is no telling which face will be manning which position on the Clay Gould Ballpark diamond.
As Thomas prepares his ninth Maverick team for the field in 2017, positional flexibility is constantly on his mind.
"I learned a long time ago that you just never know what could happen," Thomas said. "You might have to move some guys around. If a guy is hot with the bat then you need to find him a place and it just helps that they can play more than one spot."
Among the defenders capable of playing multiple positions in 2017 include standout senior Brady Cox, who has also made starts at third and first base in his career. As a junior, Cox was called upon to make 55 starts behind the plate, as the Mavericks lacked catching depth. The hefty work load didn't take its toll on his offensive, as the Fort Worth native hit .365 to lead the team.
"It helps having a versatile team big time," Cox said. "If you have a bunch of guys that just played one position and one goes down than you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just having those guys that can move around, any given day we can have a lineup that looks completely different yet is just as dangerous, we are confident that things will go smoothly. It helps that we have guys that we can move around if there is an injury. It is nice to know we always have options."
Junior RJ Williams is the perfect personification of the philosophy preached by Thomas. Williams has made starts in the outfield, third and second base, shortstop. Williams has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff while functioning as UTA's version of Ben Zobrist – the utility force who helped push the Chicago Cubs to the 2016 World Series.
"When he was a freshman, we moved him to centerfield and he was one of the better defensive centerfielders around," Thomas said. "He has a plus arm. He can really run. He can play short, last year he played third and I thought he was one of the better defenders in our conference at third base last year. His bat has improved every year and he's a good baserunner.
Williams, a native of Rockwall, Texas, is not just a defender. As a junior, he hit .266 with 10 doubles, three triples, one homer and 23 RBI, stealing nine bases.
"He can play more than one spot well," Thomas said. "He's got a chance, if he moved to the outfield, to be one of the better outfielders in the conference defensively and if he stays in the infield, it's the same way there. It is very rare that you can find that guy that can play the outfield and infield so well but he's one of them."
Along with Cox and Williams, UTA returns do-everything senior Quintin Rohrbaugh, an All-Conference outfielder with the potential to play second and third base.
Rohrbaugh, who will likely serve as UTA's everyday leftfielder in 2017, is joined in the versatile category by freshman infielder Zac Cook, junior infielder Christian Hollie and junior infielder Easton Johnson. Will Olson will likely spell Cox behind the plate, with the duo each capable of playing a strong third base when not catching. Sophomore Josh Minjarez, who missed the fall practice season due to injury, is the returning starter at shortstop but is capable of sliding all over the field.
"We were out at practice the other day and we had all the infielders take ground balls at shortstop," Thomas said. "I joked with them that every one of them was a shortstop before they got here, whether it was in junior college or in high school."
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