Double time: Switch-hitting a boost for Boggs

Double time: Switch-hitting a boost for Boggs

Double time: Switch-hitting a boost for Boggs
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was a switch-hitter, and so was hitting coach Dale Sveum. So they understand well how hard outfielder Brandon Boggs is working to impress them this spring.

Boggs is the only switch-hitter left on Milwaukee's spring roster -- pitcher Roque Mercedes was the other until he was returned to Minor League camp Saturday -- and he's trying to parlay that skill into an Opening Day job as an extra outfielder and bench bat. While Prince Fielder perfects his big left-handed swing and Ryan Braun works on his smooth, right-handed cut, Boggs has to work out the winter kinks in both.

Essentially, a switch-hitter has to do twice the work.

"That's true," said Roenicke, who turned his offensive and defensive versatility into an eight-year Major League career with six teams. "And you don't really ever get it. If you're in live batting practice out there, and say you have about 25 swings, you've got to split them up. It's not enough.

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"It's hard to be a switch-hitter. There are a lot of advantages if you're good at it, but it's hard to get the work in."

Boggs, who batted leadoff and manned center field against the Giants on Monday, is doing his best.

"Teams are willing to let you develop a little longer as a switch-hitter," he said. "It's definitely helped my career. It's been a tougher road, but it's a road I was willing to take.

"It's a lot of work. I mean, guys in this clubhouse are telling me I swing way too much. But that's the way I've always done it."

Boggs was a natural right-handed hitter who stumbled into switch-hitting. His sister was a softball player, so they spent their summer days at the batting cages in Georgia and one day he switched to the other side. It felt instantly comfortable.

"Then, right before high school, guys started throwing more curveballs," Boggs said, "and I remember a coach saying, 'Keep trying it. Do it even more.'"

It came naturally.

"I could just produce a good swing from the left side, and it never felt weird," he said. "I just had to switch my hands and do the same thing."

Some things were actually more natural left-handed. When he hits off a tee, it's more comfortable left-handed. He'd rather dunk a basketball left-handed. He doesn't write left-handed, but figures that if he had tried it as a kid, he could have.

Boggs' skill has paid off. The Yankees took a flier on him in the 50th round of the 2001 Draft but he went to Georgia Tech instead and went to the Rangers in the fourth round three years later. Boggs made it to the Majors by 2008 and singled from both sides of the plate in his first game on April 29.

He bounced between Texas and Triple-A Oklahoma City in each of the past three seasons, hitting .290 in the Minors last year with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs. He was a free agent after the season and signed with the Brewers on Nov. 24.

Boggs has been playing a lot in Cactus League games because right fielder Corey Hart has been out with a rib-cage strain. Now prospect Caleb Gindl is sidelined, too, with a knee injury.

"Every time I get on the field, it's an opportunity," Boggs said. "These guys here, they don't know me. They don't know how I handle my ups and downs, or my personality."

But two key decision-makers do know what it takes to have success as a switch-hitter. Sveum was Milwaukee's first-round Draft pick in 1982, was the team's starting shortstop at 23 in 1987 and appeared on his way to an outstanding career before suffering a broken leg in a 1988 collision with outfielder Darryl Hamilton. Sveum still played parts of 12 seasons in the Majors with seven teams willing to take a chance on a switch-hitter with defensive versatility.

Roenicke batted right-handed as a kid because his older brother, Gary, another future Major Leaguer, batted right-handed. But Ron threw left-handed and tinkered with hitting lefty in Little League before making it a habit by his sophomore year of high school.

"It came naturally," Roenicke said. "I was a natural left-hander and did a lot of things right-handed, so it wasn't that hard for me."

Now Roenicke's son, Lance, an outfielder at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is tinkering with switch-hitting and it appears he's a natural, too.

So far this spring, Boggs has done better batting right-handed, though it's a very small pool of at-bats. That's important, because the rest of the Brewers' bench is extremely left-handed, with veterans Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay expected to get the majority of at-bats and Chris Dickerson a good bet to back up center field.

What hurts Boggs' case is that he's an outfielder. If the Brewers keep him along with Kotsay and Dickerson, and Hart is back, the club would be extremely thin on the infield, with only Counsell as a backup. That's very unlikely.

Boggs is out of Minor League options, so he'd have to be exposed to waivers before an assignment to the Minor Leagues.

All of those questions will be answered later. For now, all Boggs can do is continue to work.

"If you play well, they're going to give you the opportunity," he said. "We don't have a lot of outfielders here, so there's definitely a chance."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.