Kristopher Negrón has carved out his niche as a super utility player since he made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in back in 2012.
During five of the past seven seasons — including late last season with the Seattle Mariners — he has started in every position except pitcher and catcher.
Now, more than a decade removed from when he was drafted in 2006, the 33-year-old says he approaches his role the same way he always has.
“It’s just be ready for everything — infield, outfield — that’s the niche that I’ve had over the years,” Negrón said.
“That’s his thing, he brings the versatility,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And he actually does quite well at all of them. He handled himself really well in the outfield last year.
“He can play shortstop — all over the infield. I haven’t seen him catch. He can pitch, if he had to do that in a pinch.”
Last September, after he was acquired from Arizona for cash considerations on Aug. 30, Negrón appeared in 18 games for the Mariners. He played five defensive positions the final month of the season.
He logged the most time at third base and in left field, but also played in right field, and at second base and shortstop, filling the role that former utility man Andrew Romine held for most of the 2018 season.
Romine elected free agency in October, and has since signed a minor league deal with the Phillies, leaving Negrón — who has appeared in the majors for an average of 26 games in five of the past seven seasons, including a career-high 49 with the Reds in 2014 — as the most likely choice to fill that role in 2019.
Servais said Dylan Moore, who the Mariners acquired as a free agent in November, is also in competition for that spot. Shed Long, who came to Seattle’s club from the Yankees in January in exchange for outfielder Josh Stowers, has also had a productive spring.
But neither Moore nor Long has logged any innings in the majors.
“He’s got a lot of experience,” Servais said. “He’s been a utility guy for the better part of his career, so you feel comfortable putting him wherever you have to.”
Negrón said he is a natural infielder, but started to shift to a super utility role as a minor-league player.
“It started when I was in A ball,” he said. “I was in the outfield, and had an off day, and started shagging (balls) like crazy, power shagging in the outfield, and it kind of got noticed that I was a pretty decent outfielder.
“Ever since then, I started getting some starts in center, and in the corners, and on some of the outfielders’ off days. ... It kind of grew from there.”
Negrón has most consistently logged innings in the infield during his major league appearances — most frequently at third base — but played six games in the outfield for the Mariners last season.
“Being an infielder, it’s always easy to kind of bounce around the positions,” Negrón said. “Transitioning to the outfield took a little bit to get comfortable with. But, I’ve been doing it for so long now, that every position feels at home.”
Servais said it will be significant to get meaningful appearances for whichever player fills the Mariners’ utility role this season — both for defensive familiarity, and for offensive production.
“It’s really important,” he said. “You certainly want to give that guy chances to play. Just playing that guy once a week, you’re not going to get anything out of the bat.
“So, you’re trying to create an opportunity where he can get out there three, maybe four times a week even, just to get some production out of him or that position. It’s a challenge.”
With the pieces the Mariners have to move around the field this season, Servais said the the lineup construction would be fluid, and not locked in like it has been in past season. That could offer more opportunities for the utility player.
“The biggest thing to be good as a super utility guy is you have to have the right mindset,” Servais said. “And, that typically comes from veteran players who have been around a little bit, and they understand this is their niche.
“But, it’s really valuable to have that guy on your team — certainly if he can come in and pinch run and do all of those other things, it helps out.”
SANTANA’S BAT STILL HOT
Outfielder Domingo Santana, who Seattle acquired in a trade with Milwaukee in December, has been the hottest hitter through 11 games of Cactus League play.
“Some days it feels good, you know, some days it feels bad,” he said of his swing. “You just have to go up there and try your best to swing at good pitches and make sure you hit it.”
He has a .467 average in 15 at-bats, including a team-high three home runs and seven RBIs in six games played.
“Domingo is swinging the bat really well — he has all spring,” Servais said. “From the first game out there he’s been on top of it. He’s got a lot of power. When he hits the ball in the air it just keeps going.”
Santana hit .278 for the Brewers in 2017, and played in 151 games before splitting time between Milwaukee (85 games) and Triple-A Colorado Springs (55) in 2018.
He said it was difficult not being used in a daily capacity in Milwaukee after the amount of games he played in 2017. He hit .265 with the Brewers in 2018.
“Your whole career you’ve been playing every day, and you prepare yourself to have a good season and then you do and you think obviously you have the job, and then that happened and it was really tough mentality,” Santana said.
“But, at the same time you have to learn through it.”
Santana said he was glad to join the Mariners during the offseason and again have a chance to play every day.
“They were a good team, and for me and my career, I was really excited,” he said.