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10/10/2008 10:00 AM ET
Shelby eyes quickest route to Majors
White Sox prospect working on outfield defense at instructs
John Shelby tied the Carolina League record by hitting three homers on May 3. (Carl Kline/MLB.com)

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- You couldn't blame Chicago White Sox prospect John Shelby III if he needed a little push in the right direction every time he leaves the dugout to take the field.

A second baseman at the University of Kentucky, since being selected in the fourth round of the 2005 Draft, Shelby has moved from second to the outfield, back to second and back to the outfield.

It looks, however, like the outfield will be his home for the foreseeable future. But since it's still something of a new home, Shelby is in Arizona at Chicago's instructional league camp, continuing to refine the defensive end of his game.

The offensive end? Well, that doesn't look like it's needing much help these days.

In his second full season, Shelby had a standout year, maybe the best of any White Sox Minor Leaguer, hitting .295 with 15 homers and 80 RBIs for the Winston-Salem Warthogs of the Advanced Class A Carolina League. He finished eighth in the system in average, fifth among full-season players, fifth in homers and second in RBIs.

He also stole an organization-best 33 bases, getting caught only five times, despite the fact that he was hobbled all season, to varying degrees, by a sore hamstring.

His season included a Carolina League record-tying three-homer game, a feat he achived in only his second game back from a two-week stint on the disabled with the initial hamstring injury.

And while his midseason numbers might have warranted consideration for a promotion to Double-A Birmingham, several factors led to the White Sox opting to keep him with the Warthogs for the entire season.

For one thing, it was just his second year playing the outfield full-time and the organization wanted him to concentrate on his defense.

The Warthogs also were contending for a playoff spot in the second half, locking it up before losing in the first round of the South Division playoffs to Myrtle Beach. And the Sox wanted to keep that team intact.

"It was awesome," Shelby said of his first pro postseason experience. "We had a really good team, good chemistry, and they let us just go out there and play."

It was the second year in a row Shelby lit up the leaderboard at Class A. In 2007 at Kannapolis, he batted .301 with 16 homers, 79 RBIs, 19 steals and 35 doubles, ranking among White Sox leaders in several offensive categories and posting a 22-game hitting streak.

That wasn't just his first full season but also his first in the outfield. He was a middle infielder (primarily second base) at Kentucky and in his pro debut at short-season Great Falls, where he hit .272 with eight homers and 36 RBIs.

Though Shelby was moved to the outfield prior to the 2007 season, the initial plan this spring was to move him back to second base. That plan changed toward the end of Spring Training, so back to the outfield it was.

"We feel he'll be a better defender playing the outfield," said Nick Capra, the organization's field coordinator. "We think it will be his quickest way to get to the big leagues."

The son of former big leaguer and current Baltimore Orioles first base coach John "T-Bone" Shelby Jr., "Trey-bone," as the younger Shelby is known to his family, is doing a good job of following in his family footsteps.

Shelby has joked that his dad and mom always say he grabbed a baseball as soon as he was born, and he won't argue the point.

So it's not too surprising that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get to the big leagues. And if that means making a few position switches to get there, he's good with that.

"As long as I'm playing, I'm happy," he said.

Capra confirmed that attitude.

"He was fine with the move, he just wants to play and doesn't care where," he said. "He just wants to get out there and get after it."

So Shelby has returned to the Arizona facility and continues to work on his defense while getting some more reps as a hitter that he missed during his time on the DL.

"I'm concentrating on defense, tracking balls down and reaching the cutoff man," he said. "There's less pressure on me defensively in the outfield."

While it might not seem -- looking at his numbers from 2007 and 2008 -- like there was a lot to improve on offensively, Shelby also was continuing the progress he felt he made when it comes to making adjustments at the plate.

"I started out so slow this year and it was trying, with my hammy bothering me all year," he said. "But I felt I learned to make adjustments, not just from game to game but eventually from at-bat to at-bat."

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.