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Exactly how good a first baseman can Mike Napoli become?

03.01.13 at 7:54 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ The first step is changing the mindset.

When Mike Napoli dabbled in the world of playing first base in Anaheim and Texas (a total of 133 major league games) it was simply about survival. As he points out, there was very little work at the position, primarily because there were things to get done at the primary position of catcher.

‘€œI was always doing catching stuff,’€ Napoli said of his previous practice. ‘€œWhen we did drills, I was behind the plate doing them. I think I’€™m athletic enough to do it and get better at it, and I’€™m going to work to get better at it.

‘€œI’€™m more confident. In the drills I’€™m not worried about, ‘€˜I don’€™t want to mess up anything.’€™ Now I’€™m taking ground balls all the time I’€™m confident I’€™m doing everything right and being in the right position.’€

So now, when Napoli takes the field Friday for the first time in his career as a full-time first baseman, he has been able to alter his expectations.

Camp Butter has had the desired results.

‘€œI throw things at Butter. He throws things at me. Just to feel comfortable over there,’€ said Napoli, referencing infield/third base coach Brian Butterfield. ‘€œI’€™ve probably taken more ground balls here in this camp in my whole career, already.’€

While Friday will serve at Napoli’€™s next step, it has been the steps leading up to the game at JetBlue Park that will be viewed as the foundation.

This is how it went ‘€¦

Napoli would take batting practice with the rest of his team on the JetBlue Park field, going through whatever drills the team had slated for that day. Then, after most of the players had adjourned to the clubhouse, the first baseman would walk to Field 1 with Butterfield to start the meat and potatoes of his day.

‘€œI think he’€™s ahead of the curve,’€ Butterfield said. ‘€œHe’€™s used to playing in a low position, and he’€™s a good athlete. His footwork around the base is good. His glove action is good. So we don’€™t have to break him down from square one as far as feet and glove positioning. He works and we remind him where to go in whatever we’€™re doing.

‘€œThe biggest thing he is going to be responsible for is the welfare of third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, pitcher because of his ability to work around the base and handle throws that are off target. That’€™s really where we want to give him the most work. After that it’€™s knowing where to go on our bunt defense. Knowing where to go on extra base hits. So there’€™s a lot of things he’€™s probably not used to that we’€™re work every day on and at the end of the day we’€™ll review.’€

There’€™s grounder after grounder, with Butterfield occasionally shouting out instruction or encouragement. There are miscues and mess-ups, but those will be discussed after the fact. The execution is rapid-fire and, in some regards, exhausting.

Then comes the meeting on the infield grass. Butterfield pulls out is small piece of paper and starts going down the list:

Our depths.

What is straight up? What is pinch?

What is no doubles?

Our bunt defense.

With a runner on first, or first and second.

How we’€™re going to handle the push-pull bunt.

Your cut responsibilities on extra-base hits with nobody on, or a man on first.

Where do you go on extra-base hits with nobody on.

Our 3-6 throw responsibilities.

‘€œThere is going to be a lot of verbal,’€ Butterfield said. ‘€œAnd just seeing where to go is maybe a little more appropriate now then the repetition of practicing it. We do our work and try and cover one thing a day and at the end we do a review where you’€™re thinking about where you’€™re supposed to be.’€

So, is there anything that has surprised Butterfield about his student?

‘€œHis footwork around the base is very good. His ability to play low, because corner infielders need to play low because the ball gets on you quick. He’€™s already there, and he’€™s comfortable moving from that position. I’€™m very pleased with the athleticism he has.,’€ the coach said.

‘€œHe has a chance. He has a chance to be good. And he wants to get better, and that’€™s always fun.’€

Read More: brian butterfield, mike napoli, Red Sox,
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