In 2021 Kyle Schwarber was traded from the Washington Nationals to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline. As if changing teams and cities was not enough of a transition, the Red Sox asked Schwarber to learn how to play a new position— first base.
While he only played ten games at first base for Boston, Schwarber spoke about the difficulty of the change:
"Everything was just closer. When you hit that 100-mph rocket at the first baseman, you don’t realize how quick it gets there until you’re over there. Wow."- Scott Lauber The Philadelphia Inquirer
The outfielder converted to a first baseman showed how difficult it was. In his ten games at the corner infield position, Schwarber committed one error and had -3 defensive runs saved. In the 2021 playoffs, he committed an error earlier in the game. On his next fielding opportunity Schwarber showed his exuberance by celebrating a relatively routine play.
Changing positions at any level of the game is difficult, but it is even tougher when it is a position that a player does not have much experience with. The Philadelphia Phillies find themselves in a similar situation in 2023 as they prepare for Bryce Harper to man first base at some point after the All-Star break.
Harper's situation is different from Schwarber's in that he is training to play the position to get back on the field in a position that would be easier on his surgically repaired right elbow. Harper also has played other positions that may help make his transition a bit more smoothly. He was a catcher before he was drafted and has played every outfield position as a professional.
Having experience behind the plate may help with glove work, but there are other nuances to playing first base than just catching the ball. Footwork, throwing to other bases, and positioning are important aspects to playing the infield. Those are areas in which Harper has been working with infield coach Bobby Dickerson for the last few months. More recently, Harper has been partaking in full infield practice.
It seems as though Harper could be playing first base before the trade deadline. His ability to get back to playing the field will help the Phillies in more ways than one. If he can play first base, Schwarber can begin to take on the designated hitter role more frequently— which would allow for better defense in left field. It also opens up the DH spot to give players like J.T. Realmuto a break from playing the field without losing his bat in the lineup.
Harper will be happy to get back on the field in a defensive position. It will help the club from a defensive and lineup perspective. As for Schwarber, he is just happy to be back in the outfield and away from the hard-hit balls that can get on infielders quickly.