The not-so-simple transition from playing third base in college to shortstop in the pros has been a smooth one for Cincinnati Reds first-round pick Alex Blandino.
And it's not like Blandino was pulled from his comfort zone kicking and screaming -- he's fully accepted the move.
"I played short primarily growing up, so it's nice to get back over there," said Blandino, a 21-year-old rookie with Billings, the Reds' Pioneer League affiliate. "We have a great coaching staff here that has really helped me ease back into it. I feel pretty good out there. Every night I feel like I'm getting the hang of it and the game has been flowing pretty nice."
Blandino, a heralded prospect out of Stanford, was a supplemental first-rounder (No. 29 overall) in June. He primarily played third base for the Cardinal and was named a second-team All-American by Baseball America in 2014.
But the Reds, who've also assigned touted third baseman and 2014 second-round pick Taylor Sparks to Billings, want Blandino at short, where he's so far flashed quickness, range and arm strength. Through his first 23 games, he had a .940 fielding percentage, making just six errors in 100 total chances.
First-year Mustangs manager Dick Schofield, who played much of his 14-year Major League career at short, has helped ease the transition for Blandino. And there's no question about how he'll learn going forward, because he has been and will be in the lineup virtually every day.
"We've told him to just go out there and play," Schofield said. "He's done everything we've asked. We told him to not worry about statistics or anything like that, just go out and play."
"You just have to be a little bit more creative" at shortstop, Blandino said. "There are a lot more reads on different balls, and there are a lot of different plays. I don't always know what's going to happen on a play, but sometimes you just have to make it up as you go along. As long as you get the out, that's what matters."
At the plate, Blandino makes solid contact and has shown good discipline. He's got extra-base punch and the ability to hit to all fields, though some have questioned his power potential. Still, he's hit a couple towering home runs to this point, including one moon shot at Dehler Park.
Entering Wednesday, Blandino was hitting .292 with four homers, 13 RBIs and 18 runs scored. He had walked 13 times and his on-base percentage was a solid .402.
"I've been swinging at the pitches that I want to be swinging at; I haven't been chasing too much," Blandino said. "I've been putting good swings on the ball. For the most part I feel comfortable up there. Playing every night and getting to see live arms really helps.
"I think it comes down to controlling at-bats, being selective and swinging at the pitches that you want to swing at. Having a good eye is big, and that's still something I need to get better at."
Divisions decided: Orem and Great Falls punched their tickets to the postseason by winning their respective first-half division titles. Orem cruised in the South, sealing it on Tuesday, while Great Falls wrapped up the North a day earlier. The league's first half ends Friday.
Honed in: Billings' Aristides Aquino was so locked in at the plate last week that he hit home runs in four consecutive plate appearances. Aquino homered in his final two at-bats Saturday, then crushed two more in his first two at-bats Sunday. Entering Wednesday, Aquino's nine homers ranked second in the league.
Goin' deep: As hot as Aquino's been, Ogden's Justin Chigbogu led the home run race after Tuesday. Chigbogu had 10 homers, including seven in his previous 10 games. He has 13 home runs this year between Ogden and Class A Great Lakes of the Midwest League, and he hit 14 overall last season.