Coming into the 2013 season, Marcus Semien was a nothing-special prospect in a not-so-good Chicago White Sox system. Eight months later, the system isn’t markedly better, but the 23-year-old infielder is.
A sixth-round pick in 2011 out of Cal-Berkeley, Semien broke out this year. Playing in Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, he hit a robust .284/.401/.479 and earned a September call-up. In 21 games for Chicago’s south-side squad, he batted .261 and banged out his first two big-league home runs. The former Golden Bear is currently wrapping up his second-full professional season in the Arizona Fall League with the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Semien — who climbs to No. 4 in this year’s White Sox rankings — talked about his much-improved game last week.
Semien on why he was sent to the AFL: “They made the decision to send me here when I was in Triple-A. I got called up to the big leagues, but I still came to Fall League. It’s fine. I’m glad to be here working on things.
“It’s kind of just overall reps. I’m working on playing all three positions — second base, shortstop and third base — and continuing to swing the bat. I need to keep learning.”
On playing multiple positions: “My goal is to get all three to the same level, but I’ve always been a shortstop. Shortstop is my favorite. Whenever I’ve moved to second or third, I’ve just wanted to make myself as comfortable as I can. When I’m put in any situation — whether I’m in Chicago or wherever else I‘m playing — I need to be ready for it.
“At third base, I have to be more aware of guys that bunt. I also have to be more aware of my positioning to take away singles in the hole, as well as when to move over to the line to take away doubles. At shortstop, it’s keeping my footwork right and making the routine play every time. At second base, it’s pretty much the same as shortstop, as well as focusing on the double play turn. I try to keep all three positions separate. I work on each one differently.”
On primarily playing third base — the position he has the least experience at — after getting called up: “It was interesting. I felt like I did well up there. I had some good coaches to walk me through some things. Obviously, Robin Ventura played third base. Our third base coach, Joe McEwing, had a lot of time in the big leagues, playing the infield at all three positions. Both of those guys were on top of me, and I did a lot of early work to get better every day.
“All three positions are different. Third base and shortstop are on the left side of the infield, but the angles are a lot different. The ball also gets on you a lot faster on the corner, so I wouldn’t say third is necessarily any easier for me than second.”
On any fears his versatility could result in a utility-man label: “I don’t focus on that. I just do what I’m told. I’ve been fortunate enough to play all three, and my goal is to be able to play any of those positions every day. I want to make sure I have them all locked down, and swing the bat well enough to make it easier for a manager to put me somewhere. If that can be every day, great. If not, I can at least provide versatility so he can use me when I’m needed.”
On his hitting approach: “It’s to swing at my pitch. The pitchers are really good the higher you go, so you want to swing at your pitch. Once you get to two strikes, just battle. But if you can be in the driver’s seat — ahead in the count and not chasing pitches early — that gives you a better chance to drive a ball. You can hit a ball into the gap, maybe even hit a home run.
“Getting a good pitch to hit is obviously a pretty standard approach, and at the same time, you want to be in the driver’s seat as often as you can. When you do get that good pitch, just stay short and not try to do too much with it.”
On adapting to big-league pitching: “I think when I got to Chicago, I was swinging at some pitches I wasn’t swinging at in the minor leagues. I hadn’t seen any of these big-league pitchers yet. I had to rely on scouting reports and video. In the Southern League, most of the year we played five-game series and I got to know a lot of the pitchers.
“It takes experience and time. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the big leagues, and the more at bats I get, the better I’ll be at recognizing a certain pitcher’s off-speed pitches.”
On scouting reports and video: “It was awesome to have those resources. They have a lot of guys working upstairs to give us everything we need and you take from it what you want. Some of what they give you is very helpful.
“Maybe I don’t want to think too deeply, but I do want to know what off-speed pitches a guy throws and what he likes to do in certain counts. Just don’t think too much. Once you’re in the box you need to just compete.”
On having 21 home runs and 26 stolen bases this season: “I got on base a little more this year, so I had more chances to run. I was hitting near the top of the order, and if I saw a good opportunity to run, I did. As far as power, I didn’t change anything. I think it was just a matter of gaining more experience and all the swings I took. I learned more about my swing. Sometimes home runs just happen.
“It was my second full season. I learned a lot my first full season, and this year I learned even more. I’m going to continue to learn. In this game, you never really have it all figured out, so I want to be very coachable. You always need to be progressing as a player.”