Mike Napoli made a seamless transition to first base this season. Could he possibly slide across the diamond and play third base in the World Series?
Theoretically, yes, but don’t expect it to happen unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said in an interview on WEEI on Sunday that Napoli is more of an “emergency” option at third base, despite the slugger taking ground balls down at the hot corner prior to Game 3 in St. Louis.
“We’re looking for any advantage that we can have, any advantage that will help us score runs by putting the best players out on the field at any given time,” Lovullo said. “[The idea of Napoli at third base is] more of A: an emergency situation [or] B: a quick matchup where we could put him out there for one inning with a double-switch and then potentially have another double-switch where, there might be a pinch-run situation or something for [David Ortiz] where we can slide Napoli back over to first base and now play defense in a go-ahead situation.
“It’s not for a long-term, nine-inning start. It’s mostly for an emergency, a quick inning double-switch or maybe lightning in a bottle, hit a three-run home run, go ahead and slide him over there, in a situation where we already have maneuvered with some of our backup infielders — in this case, Will [Middlebrooks] — in the game.”
Napoli has never played third base in a major league game, but him taking grounders at the position on Saturday certainly turned some heads. Napoli has been forced to the bench with Boston playing in a National League ballpark for Games 3, 4 and 5, and the Red Sox have struggled to get offensive production from the left side of the infield — particularly from shortstop Stephen Drew. Napoli never got into Game 3, which generated plenty of questions about how the first baseman will be deployed throughout the rest of the series.
Red Sox manager John Farrell lauded Napoli’s glove work before Game 3, expressing shock that the 31-year-old isn’t among the American League’s three Gold Glove finalists at first base. It’s unlikely that Napoli will be trading in his first baseman’s mitt any time soon, though, even if the Red Sox could absolutely use his pop in the middle of their order.
“Yeah, just think about everything, everything that you possibly have at your disposal,” Farrell said. “Still, Mike at third base is probably more of a late‑inning situation, if we get into a pinch‑hit and a double‑switch type situation that keep him there for an inning or two or more, before possibly shifting him back over to first base. But still as we’ve seen, the defense on all parts regardless of the position, is a premium. And still trying to use that as a priority.”
Napoli is hitting .225 (9-for-40) with two home runs and six RBIs this postseason.