Clement's future at first base -- for now
Bucs aren't going to let former catcher behind plate just yet
PITTSBURGH -- Despite Jeff Clement's desire to eventually work his way back behind home plate, the Pirates have every intention of giving Clement the chance to seize the team's immediate vacancy at first base.
That's where Clement, who the Pirates acquired in a seven-player deal with Seattle last July, comes in.
The '05 first-round Draft pick will be given every opportunity to win the job at first, even though Clement's experience there is limited to 28 Minor League starts, all in '09. Six of those came with the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, Wash., before Clement ended the season playing exclusively first for Triple-A Indianapolis.
"I've caught my entire life ... so when I was playing every day, I was a little apprehensive at first," Clement said. "But you just get comfortable. You get used to doing the work. You get comfortable being in game situations and knowing where you're supposed to be on the field. Honestly, it's a heck of a lot easier than catching is."
The Pirates had planned to call Clement up in September, but that plan was derailed after Clement strained his oblique just days before the first of the month. Clement tried to rush back from the injury and did appear in two more games with Indianapolis, but the premature return actually did more harm than good.
Clement is expected to be 100 percent come Spring Training, but in the meantime, he continues to rehab at home in Iowa.
"It's been a really slow process, slower than I thought it was going to be," Clement said. "I think that's probably because I rushed back a little too soon. I reinjured it probably worse than I did the first time. I've got a nice long offseason to rehab it, and it's getting a lot better now."
There are more concerns about Clement's defensive abilities than his offensive potential, though Clement was flat offensively in an extended stint with Seattle in '08. In 203 at-bats that season, Clement hit just .227 with five homers and 23 RBIs.
If Clement is able to win Pittsburgh's starting job next spring, that would shift Jones to right, leaving Moss and Pearce to battle for a bench role. Keep in mind, too, that top outfield prospect Jose Tabata is likely not far from his Major League debut, though finding a spot for him will be something the club addresses when necessary.
While Clement's ticket to Pittsburgh is as a first baseman, he has made it clear that playing first is not part of his ideal long-term plan. Despite multiple knee surgeries, Clement remains interested in getting back behind the plate.
"If my knee can hold up, I'd love to have a chance to still catch, whether it be an everyday catcher, a backup catcher," he said. "Whatever the case may be, I'd like to get back there and do it. As long as I'm healthy to do it, that's where I'd like to be the most."
General manager Neal Huntington has put to rest that possibility, at least for the immediate future. He recently spoke with Clement, informing him that he will be arriving at Spring Training to prepare as a first baseman, not a catcher.
"We want him to come into camp as a first baseman," Huntington said. "If that doesn't happen, then maybe we consider the possibility of him as a catcher, but that is not our priority right now. With the surgeries, history indicates that his knee flares up when he catches a lot.
"We have to get to know him before we know if he can be a catcher," Huntington added. "It's still too early in the process to say that he can catch or he can't. Maybe down the road he proves he can be a backup catcher if needed. Or maybe we'll see that with some layoff, his knees are strong enough to be an everyday catcher."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.