Surprise notes: Bucs' Joe keeps on his toes

2014 first-rounder embraces challenge of playing new positions again

Connor Joe hit .333 in six playoff games to help Bradenton claim the Florida State League crown. (Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | November 7, 2016 10:30 AM ET

Connor Joe doesn't care how he gets in the lineup.

While at the University of San Diego, the former high school third baseman found himself stuck behind Kris Bryant, the eventual No. 2 pick in the 2013 Draft. In order to stay in the lineup, he jumped from first base to the outfield and sometimes even appeared behind the plate. It wasn't rare to find Joe changing positions daily over the course of a series.

The carousel has continued to spin in the pros.

After drafting Joe with the 39th pick in 2014, the team planned to move him to catcher for his pro debut, but a back injury ended his season before it began. The 24-year-old transitioned to first base for 76 games last season with Class A West Virginia. He was on the move again before this season, this time heading back to third.

Joe's most recent shift brought its share of challenges. In 96 games with Class A Advanced Bradenton, he committed a career-high 25 errors and posted a .892 fielding percentage.

"The last time I played third base every day was back in high school, so getting back over there was a challenge," Joe said. "It's just a different angle, a different perspective, different reads you have to take. It's not like first base where you can sit back. It's more of a read and that read has got to be made quickly. You have to trust that read."

Joe worked frequently with Pittsburgh's Minor League infield coordinator Grant Green on sharpening his glove work. In the meantime, he rode a second-half surge to his best offensive season, improving his numbers across the board and raising his slash line from .245/.366/.303 last season to .277/.351/.392 over 107 games.

While Joe has not found the same level of offensive success so far in the Arizona Fall League -- through 11 games, he has hit .222 -- he once again has found himself on the move in the field. The right-handed hitter has appeared in the outfield, as well as at both third and first.

"For me, versatility is good and it's something that I'm able to do," Joe said. "Getting better at every position is my goal here and being able to make an impact at multiple positions. ... Every day is different, and it presents a new challenge."

The Pirates have not given Joe any indication that third base will be his permanent position going forward, so the 6-foot, 205-pound hitter wants to continue to bolster his versatility. Ultimately, he said, the goal is staying in the lineup.

"At the beginning of the season, they told me I would be the everyday third baseman at the Florida State League level, so that's where I put all my focus," Joe said. "If they tell me something different next season, then I'm going to put my focus there. It's just being in that lineup and being able to swing that bat and produce."

Joe hopes that flexibility will be an asset in getting him to the big leagues, where teams are increasingly carrying utilitymen who can play all over the field. The Pirates, in particular, had 10 players spend at least 45 games with the big league team who took the field at more than one position.

"That is kind of the style the Pirates have taken a liking to," Joe said. "To me, I look at it as just another opportunity to get to the big leagues and make an impact. For me, it's an advantage."

In brief

Mash like Mitch: Twins' No. 24 prospect Mitch Garver has homered three times in his last six games to move into first place on the circuit with four long balls this fall. The 25-year-old went deep 12 times in 117 games between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester during the regular season.

Live by the K, die by the K: Saguaros pitchers have piled up the most strikeouts in the league (193), led by No. 10 Royals prospect Josh Staumont's 21. However, they have also struck out 183 times at the plate, second-most in the league. Outfielder Tanner English (Twins) has done the most bat-waving on the team with 21.

The dynamic duo: Fifth-ranked Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech and Pirates' No. 29 prospect Edgar Santana have been two of the AFL's brightest pitching stars. They sport a combined 1.14 ERA over 23 2/3 frames with an impressive 35-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Both pitched for the West Division in the Fall Stars Game on Saturday.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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